Shelter in a Storm

Growing up on a farm, we had a garage that was about 25 yards from our house. It had metal garage doors that we had to get out of the car and put our fingers into the cracks where the doors hinged and physically lift them up and push them on their rollers to the open position. It’s like what we have to do with garage doors now when the electricity goes out, only it was every time and the garage door openers were humans. I digress. When I was still quite young my mom or dad would carry me into the house if we had arrived home at my bedtime or after and I’d fallen asleep in the car. I loved that. It might actually be true that as I grew a little older, I would pretend to be asleep as we pulled in the garage because I liked my dad carrying me into the house. There was something that simply felt so safe and secure about being in mom or dad’s arms after dark making our way from the garage toward home.

I heard myself say to a colleague a few days ago, that I’m sorta looking for a garage to help park Grace and my ministry in until all the stuff around the denomination gets clarified and sorted and figured out where we know a direction and are clear, as a church and as pastors, it’s a direction we can go with integrity to our faith and calling from God. Simply a safe place to park from which we can continue to do the ministry that defines us and reflects who we are and have always been as a faith community. A place where we’re not continually looking over our shoulders wondering if the denominational police are closing in to “catch us” inviting LGBTQ persons in without telling them to try and transform how they were born. I tried to transform my freckles from my skin for the longest time, most especially when they pop out in the summer sun, that hasn’t worked. I’ve tried to transform my crooked smile by doing lip-ups on the right side since my left lip naturally goes higher than my right – they are way to asymmetrical to be appropriate for pictures. For awhile I tried to transform my height and arm length since I never could jump very high. If I had only been taller and arm stretchier, I’m certain K-State women’s basketball would have recruited me. But no matter how long I would hang from our clothes line poles to try and stretch my arms or how much I’d try and lengthen my neck and legs through visualization and stretching, I simply stopped ascending at 5’7 ½” . . . maybe 5’8” on a good day. If I can’t transform my freckles, lip cattywampus-ness, or height, I’m not sure why I would ask other folks to transform stuff about themselves with which they were born. So I’m done with that.

I want to park in a garage where we’re out of the hail-storms of conversations around who to blame for what around biblical authority and interpretation; where we’re out of the wind-gusts of who is defining United Methodism in the United States and how we continue to connect but not control or be controlled by brothers and sisters on other continents in other contexts; where sometimes we either fall asleep safely or maybe even pretend to be asleep a little bit to be reminded that we are safe in the presence of God whose grace can and does carry us to a place we call home. Perhaps that pushes the analogy a bit too far but on a gray wind-gusty day with the promise of storms on the horizon, I’m simply focused on wanting to provide a safe place and wanting to be in a safe place from which to do risk-taking ministry in the radical and ever-renewing spirit and generosity of Jesus Christ.

That garage out on our farm had a basketball goal on the front. My dad put it up and nailed a piece of plywood over the four-paned window that was just off to the side of the goal. The math calculation of angles given that the plywood wasn’t a backboard square behind the rim, yet could still be used but with creative variations of arc and trajectory, was interesting. And the driveway was dirt, so when it rained and we pulled into the garage it left ruts. Practicing dribbling and lay-ups over and around ruts that could and would send a basketball racing down the hill toward the pasture was a game that developed interesting adaptation skills in and of itself. I wished, more times than you might imagine, that we had a large level cement pad with a painted free-throw line and circle, that we could have a glass backboard with a square painted on it to aim for bank-shots, and that the wind wouldn’t blow so hard that it changed the direction of the ball in the air. Then I figured out that sitting around wishing things were different didn’t help my free throws, my agility, or my aim. I had countless numbers of games where the time was ticking down, the score was tied, and I had to make a last-second desperation shot to win the championship. More often than not it took several last-second desperation attempts before one finally went in and I could lift my arms in victory – in my tournaments I got to keep shooting until the winning shot fell in. Hey, when you have ruts and an off-center backboard, and you’re a future K-State alumni, you have to have a little basketball grace on your side! *snort*

That’s a little bit where it feels like we are right now I think. We’re trying to adapt, we’re trying to figure some new calculations for our trajectory and at the same time we’re trying to find a safe place for ourselves and our LGBTQ family to park away from the storms so we can simply continue to do our ministry for those in greatest need. No one has lived on our farm now for over 30 years, both houses that were out there after the fire took the original farm house are now gone, sold and moved off the home place. The garage is still there, the metal doors still closed, and I’m not sure if you could even get them rolled open. The last I knew the basketball rim was still hanging on the front, albeit without a net and sagging, and while there aren’t any ruts to dribble around from cars pulling in through the mud anymore, one would need to dodge the intermittent cow-patties scattered around since my bother-in-law and nephews keep cattle out there part of the time now.

No one’s been carried in from the car pretending to be asleep for at least 54 years I’m guessing, but somehow the foundations of those memories remain and inform my perspective of what we’re living through now. The roads aren’t always going to be smooth or without stuff we might try to avoid stepping in, the backboards aren’t always going to be spot on and well-centered for ease and clarity of aim, but a safe place to park out of the eye of the storm and arms to embrace us, ALL of us, on our way toward home are the promise of grace that we absolutely have to carry us on with and for one another and for the world of God’s grand creation.