What is Your Original Face?

I had a disturbing dream recently. I was in an underground parking lot, and police were making an arrest. The man being arrested was charged with a crime: stealing other people’s faces. All around the garage were angry men with stitched cheeks and foreheads. Their original appearance had been stolen, and now they had to wear someone else’s face. As I reflected on the dream, I began to wonder: Is the face I’m wearing truly mine? What is my original face?

I wonder how many of us have given up our original faces for the sake of unity? How many of us have sacrificed a core piece of our soul in order to keep the peace, belong, be loved, or just survive?

My original church home was The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It’s where I was raised, went to seminary, was ordained, and served as a pastor for five years. Twice in American history a major Christian denomination had a conservative/progressive battle, and decided to become more conservative. One was the Southern Baptist Convention, and the other was the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

I struggled as a seminary student. The rigid doctrines conflicted with the expansive love of God I had known in my heart since childhood. I was told to ignore such feelings because they were misleading and infected with sin. True doctrine alone could be trusted, as established once and for all in the Lutheran Confession as written in the 16th Century.

So, I buried my heart, put on an orthodox face, and feigned unity.

Years later, before I left that church, I led an education program for Missouri Synod clergy in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Each year, we’d have a mix of internal and external speakers. For the external speakers, I’d invite someone who might create some discomfort, hoping for a little evolution amongst our clergy, all of whom, of course, were men since the Missouri-Synod does not ordain women.

One time I invited the pastor of the Cathedral of Hope, which was the largest congregation in the world whose primary ministry was to the LGBT Community. The pastor demonstrated how their liturgy and theology mirrored the rest of mainline Christianity. Then he said, “Really, the only difference between you and me is that I achieve sexual friction in a different way than you do.”

I watched old men’s faces turn pale as this registered in their minds. At the end, several of them stood up and railed against him for pronouncing absolution and benediction upon people living in unrepentant sin, people destined for hell. Others, however, with tears in their eyes, thanked him for providing a spiritual home for those who found no welcome in their own congregation. They blessed him and his ministry. For me, a closeted gay minister, it was deeply healing. For the first time, I had heard another Missouri Synod minister bless the fullness of who I am.

After these meetings, one of my tasks was to send a thank you letter to our presenters. We had a standard letter that addressed them as brother/sister in Christ and closed with a blessing for them and their ministries.

Over the years, we had many speakers, representing diverse political views and theologies. This time, and only this time, I was told by fellow ministers not to address our speaker as brother in Christ and not to close the letter with a blessing for him and his congregation.

But I could still hear in my heart the song I was taught in Lutheran school:

Every flower soft and gay, gently smiling seems to say:

"God’s a parent, kind and true, one who loves and cares for you."

That’s the God I knew. That's the Jesus I experienced. I wrote to the pastor, addressing him as brother, and blessed him and his congregation with joy. I was beginning to recover my original face.

What’s your original face? In these times of polarization, fear, and artifice, the best hope for our world is for each of us to to restore our original faces, in all their diverse glory, and let them so shine that others remember who they really are. Ultimately, we are siblings, children of one Essence, an Essence, which I experience as Unconditional Love. How does your original face reveal that Love?

I wrote a haiku about my dream. I've been using it as a kind of mantra when I start to forget.

Original Face

Fun. Heart-connection. God-fire

Wakens world to Love.

If you feel so inclined, please share a haiku about your "original face".

Where Truth and Love Meet

"Speak the truth in love." Ephesians 4:15

Twenty years ago I faced a decision: continue to lie about my sexual orientation or tell my parents the truth. I realized that I was closing my heart to them in order to protect myself and that the only way to have an adult relationship was to tell them the full truth, which I did. It was painful for us all, but, in time, with immense patience, we came to a place of honest, loving relationship.

We often pit truth and love as opponents in a virtuous battle in which there can only be one winner. We set up a false equation in which we must choose between truth and love, and end up having neither.

We just came out of an election in which both truth and love were largely absent. The result is a nation divided, hurt, resentful, anxious, angry, confused, and distrustful. Some are happy that their candidate(s) won, but immense damage has been done to our nation-family, and a troubling future looms.

So what now?

Discard the myth that truth and love are somehow incompatible. The path before us requires that we practice both together.

The Sufi poet Rumi wrote: "Out beyond notions of right and wrong, there is a field. I'll meet you there."

That field is Love. It is a place of unconditional positive regard, even for those whose thoughts and behaviors we loathe.  True love is a choice, not a feeling. It is hard work. It's much easier to demolish someone's hypocrisy on Facebook or Twitter than it is to engage in honest dialog.

In that field beyond right and wrong, we meet others as they are, listen, learn, and start to understand.

And in that field, we are also free to speak the unvarnished truth with the intention of remaining in relationship with those with differing views. That field beyond "right and wrong" does not ask as to surrender to evil, but rather we are asked to surrender our self-righteousness, moral superiority, and smug certainty,

This is the pivot, the twist, the middle way. While we radiate respect and seek to understand "the other", we give no ground to misogyny, racism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, destruction of the planet, economic injustice, etc. We speak the truth in love, realizing, with humility, that we too have our own "isms", ignorance, and arrogance.

The how of our response becomes very bit as important as the what.  We choose to "go high" even when others "go low". In our crusades to be right, we can become just as vile as "those people" whom we condemn. Only by holding love and truth together can we heal, do justice, and make peace.

When I came out to my parents I learned that it takes time for beliefs and irrational fears to shift. Only in loving, patient, and courageously honest relating can such shifts happen. I had to say "no" and refuse to stay silent when horrible things were said or done. Yet, I chose to stay in relationship and keep doing the difficult, messy work of listening, forgiving, speaking up with firm love, and owning my own issues. That's the key. Change happens in relationship, not through social media exchanges or even by winning the next argument or election.

Transformation of a family or a nation occurs when we tend both truth and love, when we choose right relationship over self-righteousness, when we have the courage to return, over and over, to that field beyond right and wrong. I'll meet you there.