Uncaged...

...it's been said, "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone." (Thank you 1980's rock ballad). But I think the truth is that, sometimes, you don't know what you've had until it's left and come back 

This is kind of how I feel about Jesus right now. I know, I know. Jesus never really left. What is it the fundamentalist Evangelicals say? "If you feel far from God, God isn't the one who moved." Well maybe that's true. Maybe God doesn't walk away on God's anthropomorphized feet. But since I decided to leave the United Methodist Church and its ordination process in the fall of 2012, God has felt anything but near (save a few exceptions). Recently, however, it feels like God has shown back up... or at least Jesus has.

Three weeks have passed since I moved to Cleveland. Since then, I've started my residency at the Cleveland Clinic, gone to the West Side Market to buy what has to be the best fresh pasta I've ever had outside of Rome, discovered my local coffee shop, wine vendor, indie movie theater and dry cleaner, and spent too much time breaking in my brand new IKEA apartment. Many nights have been spent at home bingeing on Netflix and, admittedly, trying to figure out what it means to live alone again. Needless to say, it hasn't been easy. I've been texting insatiably, cleaning at the pace of a Hyatt Regency worker, and then sitting curled up on the couch watching the episodes of Doctor Who that make me cry... deliberately.

...when I left the UMC, it honestly felt like Jesus stayed there with them...

Initially, after leaving, I said I didn't want to rush into any ordination process. I didn't want to join another denomination, certainly not for the sake of obtaining credentials. A year went by, and while I'd stayed in contact with a Disciples pastor on Chicago's south side, I never made it to a worship service at his church. In fact, with the exception of a few services at St. James Cathedral downtown, I never went anywhere else besides Holy Covenant, my home church. I didn't want to go anywhere else. The truth was I never wanted to leave. But I'd been in the closet before, hiding something about myself from the outside world for the sake of fitting in. And I knew that if I continued to do so, it would lead to my demise, at least emotionally if not holistically.

Leaving was hard. Ask Frankie, my partner. Or Audrey, my best friend. Matthew, my pastor. Or Mark, one of my professors. I found a home within the UMC, or at least within my local parish — a place that loved and accepted me, that recognized my call into and gifts for ministry. A place that saw my faith and wanted to nurture it. But unfortunately, this little pocket of resistance exists within a denomination that, on paper, persistently told me, because of my sexual orientation, I am not good enough to be called by God to serve God in an official capacity. Truth be told, I started to believe that message.

Thank God for stubborn friends and bosses...

Despite the love shown to me by my church family, I started to believe, yet again, that the love of God, the love of Jesus, was not mine to experience, to claim. And if I didn't have God's love, then how could I ever be God's spokesperson? Why bother pursuing ordination if the one calling me never really called me — if my "call" was only in my head, if my gifts for ministry were a sheer luck of the draw and I just happened to be good at preaching, liturgizing, or in my case specifically, caring for people in times of pain, suffering, and utter desperation?!

Yet I still ended up here in Cleveland, working at a major healthcare facility as part of a group of people called to tend to people's spirits. Here I am... a chaplain. It can't be a coincidence. At the end of our first week, my supervisor sat me down to talk about my lack of a faith community. A few months ago, I began the endorsement process with an ecumenical organization. If I'm to be honest, this is mostly because the notion of going back to church, of plugging myself into and making myself vulnerable with another group of people is horrifying. Still, my boss pressed me on it and urged me to find a community.

Last week, not quite ready to go back to an explicitly "Christian" church, I visited the local Unitarian congregation. They were kind, friendly, welcoming. The music had good theology. The sermon was a little more broad than I've experienced in the past. So while it was not a bad experience, it wasn't quiet what I was (subconsciously) looking for. So I decided that, yesterday, I would attend service at a local UCC. I ended up going with one of my colleagues, and it wasn't until after the service and later in the day that I realized how glad I was of this. She shared with me her own intentions to be ordained and, as we talked, as we sat in service together, as I thought of conversations with former colleagues and bosses and friends, I started to realize something...

...I still want to be ordained. I still feel called to be ordained...

I don't know what all this means. I'm trying to not be impulsive, or rash. I'm trying to take time and listen and discern. But something is stirring, bubbling up inside me. Some voice is speaking to me, and even though the words feel jumbled right now, I get the strong sense that my life is about to change even more than it has in the last month, and that whatever God has in store for me, I know that God's love for me, that Jesus' love for me, is real and is being loosed within me even as I write this...

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photo credit: Ajari via Flickr