malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: June 2009

Letting Go

100_3838My mind and thoughts are rambling today.

Seven years ago, 2002,  I was single and wondering if I would ever get married again following my divorce in 1996.   I couldn’t find what I was looking for in a life partner.  So, I asked myself the question, “Where do I want to live, what do I want to do with my life?

I knew I loved my work and and decided to stay at the clinic, but I wanted to go for a dream in terms of where I would live.  I had always wanted to live on the water, and since the closest beach was 4-5 hours away, a lake sounded good.

Friends helped me find a vacant lot on Smith Lake in north Alabama, one of the deepest, cleanest lakes in the southeast that is over 35 miles long and covers three counties.  I set out to have a house built in the middle of nowhere.  It was an hour commute to work, but to me it was worth it.  I had never done anything like this and I was scared to death.  I borrowed as much as the bank would allow, found a builder, and off I went.   I ate peanut and jelly sandwiches for weeks after I moved in because of my tight budget.

Sunset from our deckI have come to love this house on a bluff overlooking the lake. Its like a tree house in the summertime and each season is unique and amazing.  I’ve seen owls, hawks, eagles, red fox, rabbits, deer, and wolves to name just a few of the native wild animals.  I smile at the baby calves and foals in the pastures on my way to work.  On a clear night on our deck, I see billions of stars that are invisible in the city, and hear tree frogs and whippoorwills instead of car horns.

But even with all of the above, I was still lonely living by myself.

Six months after I moved in my new home, I fell in love with Mary Sullivan.  Mary is the best thing that ever happened to me in my life.  We eloped 18 months later with Brendan and Kiki, and I lived in NC for three weeks each month and returned to the lake and clinic one week out of the month for a full year until we could figure out the best place for all of us to live together.

After a year, I found myself in the Emergency Room in Chapel Hill believing I was having a heart attack.   The stress of two mortgages and living in two states caught up with me.  Decision time had come.  “Where are you going to live?  What are you going to do?”

I assumed we would sell the lake house and I would move to Chapel Hill and find a job.  Much to our surprise, Brendan and Kiki convinced us they wanted to move and live on the lake in Alabama.  It has been a great place to be family together.  “My house” turned into “our home” with Mary’s help and presence.

Yesterday I was slalom skiing behind our boat on the glass surface that barely has a ripple in it during the week.  I love to ski, along with long boat rides that allow me to see thousands of acres of trees and cliffs without a structure on it.

And now four years later, both kids will be going off to college at the same time and the empty nest brings former questions for both Mary and me “Where do we want to live, what do we want to do in the next chapter of our lives?”

All of this rambling is to say it is time to simplify our lives.   I am aware of a grief deep within my soul as we ponder selling our home on the lake and moving.

The difference this time is the scenario is about “us” and not just about “me.”

And that makes all the difference.

Walking with Wylie

Wylie CoyoteRecently I was out for an early morning hour walk for exercise in downtown Birmingham, walking from the Southside to the Northside and back again.

As I walked on 18th ST and 6th AVE N, I came upon a man in his 30’s about a half a block ahead of me.  We made eye contact and he shouted out “Good morning!” before I had the chance.  I responded with a “Good morning!” back.  I crossed to the other side of the street as I made my turn and we were walking in the same direction, on opposite sides of the street.  Before I knew it he had crossed over to my side.

I was a little startled when he said from behind my right shoulder, “Are you getting your exercise early this morning?”  I figured he was wanting money.  He didn’t have anything in his hands and had only the clothes on his back.

“Yes, I am, how are you today?” as I tried not to act nervous.   “I’m doing pretty well,” he said, “just heading to the bus station where I’m catching a bus this morning.  I have a brother and sister in West Virginia.  “May I walk with you for awhile?” he asked.  “Sure, I said,” feeling more comfortable.

I’m from N’awlins,” he began with his thick Cajun accent .  “My girlfriend just told me she wanted to be with somebody else.  It was hard.  The only thing I knew to do was pick up the phone and call my brother in West Virginia.  I asked my baby brother if he could help me out and send me a bus ticket to come his way.  He told me the ticket was on the way and he and his wife would make room for me in their home.”

“You have a generous brother,” I chimed in.  “Yes sir, I do.  And a good sister too.  She wired me a little money so that I could eat on the way.  They will take care of me until I get back on my feet.  I’m an alcoholic and I have bi-polar disorder, ” he said matter-of-factly.

“That must make everything hard,” I added as we turned another corner and picked up the pace.

He shrugged, “Yes sir, it does.  But it is going to get better, God is gonna help me.  I’m ready this time and God is gonna help me,” he said confidently.  I was struck by his optimism and hope.  He turned to me and asked “What do you do?”

“I’m a chaplain at an HIV Clinic here,” I replied.  “I take care of people who are HIV positive.”

He stopped and looked at me wide-eyed, “Wow, that must be a great job!  Helping all those people and all!

I smiled and said, “You know what, you are right, I love my job.”  I heard him add with a lowered voice, “I can’t imagine having a job that I loved.”

He stuck out his hand and introduced himself, “My name is Wylie, just like “Wylie Coyote” the cartoon character.   See?”  as he showed me a tattoo on the inside of his forearm that was indeed a drawing of the one and only Wylie Coyote pictured for all to see from his wrist to his elbow.  I shook his hand firmly, “My name is Malcolm.  Nice to meet you Wylie” as I realized I was beginning to enjoy our 20 minute walk and conversation together.  We talked about his hopes and dreams, and some of his fears too as we walked together.

“Wylie,” I said, “it’s going to be ok.  Things are going to get better for you.  You are on the right track.  You have family who loves you, and do you know that you are a child of God?”  I asked.  “Yep, I sure do,” he quickly added.

“Well, here is the bus station and my bus leaves in 10 minutes,” he said as we rounded the corner to the Greyhound Bus Station.  “Thanks so much for talking to me and encouraging me.  I was just asking God to help me a few minutes before I met you.  Isn’t it amazing how God works in mysterious ways?  Wow!”  “Yes it is, it is,” I nodded.

He turned towards me and said, “Before you leave, will you say a prayer for me right here on the street? “Sure, I will be glad to Wylie.”

He grabbed both of my hands as we closed our eyes and I said, “God, help Wylie to know there is nothing in all of this world that he could ever do or ever say that would keep you from loving him.  Help him to know he is not alone and that you are looking after him.  Thank you for his brother and sister who love him and give him safe travels as he continues his journey.  In your loving name we pray, Amen.”

Before I knew it, Wylie had me in a bear hug saying “Thank you so much Chaplain, thank you so much,” as he wiped his misty eyes with his rough hands.  “God bless you Chaplain, God bless you.”

As I walked away I thought, “God just did.”

Walking with Wylie, my gift for the day.

Whole-Hearted Loving

loveI was recently leading a group discussion at The 1917 Clinic around the theme of love with the following two questions:

“What does it mean to love with your whole heart?  How does this kind of love change you, others?”

I asked the same questions of my “Facebook Friends” and I wanted to share some of their responses with you.

Sharon Ryder, a Christian Conservative Mom/Wife who is a Republican wrote:

“That’s unconditional love.  It’s a love without boundaries, giving, not self motivated, not dependent on reward or recognition.  To love no matter what the consequence, a love that endures all.  And that kind of love overflows into every part of your life, into every part of your being.”

Harry Wingfield, a friend who is gay, HIV positive, and in a 21-year relationship with his partner stated:

“For me, it isn’t about emotion.  It’s about a deep inner knowing, and acceptance of what is and can not change.  It’s the love I feel for family—the family of my birth and the family that life has given me.  It’s being a part of a connection that is beyond questioning.  It brings safety, and security, and hope.”

Rebecca England, a single woman who is in a relationship and describes herself as a Liberal Democrat commented:

“To love with your whole heart means you don’t make a little compartment in yourself for your loved one and keep them out of the rest of your life.  You just take the Nestea plunge and get wet—let them know all of you, and accept knowing all of them.  It changes you and others in the same way that blue and yellow make green.  Also, this is my thought right now—when you choose something, you take everyone who loves you into that experience.  Like addiction, breaking the law, finding serenity through prayer—your loved ones all get a little piece of those choices.”

Steve Shanks, a married man who describes himself as a “Progressive, Episcopalian, and then some” added from “The More You Tear Off, The More You Keep” by Andrei Voznesensky and translated by William Jay Smith and Vera Dunham:

Give all at once,

Make gifts of yourself and forgiving;

Having but one ruble,

Give someone a thousand!

The water in living wells

Does not stagnate;

The more you tear from your heart

The more of it you keep.

A mother with many children

Takes in an orphan;

The more you tear from your heart

The more you keep.

You who worry so about people,

Give away your earnings;

You will become younger

And your burden will lighten.

Immortality, dear Faustus,

Is idiotically simple—

The more you tear from your heart,

The longer you will live.

But a beggar’s house cannot burn;

Trouble and triumph are brothers;

The more you tear from your hear,

The more that heart will hurt.

There is one lesson we are to learn in life, and only one:  It is all about love.  Loving our Creator and loving our human family. If we can learn this truth, we have discovered our purpose on this earth.

Thank you Facebook Friends.

What are your thoughts?  Please comment below.

Abomination

samegendermarriageThis may be one of the most boring posts I have written on my blog Why?

I prefer to tell stories because I think we learn best from the experience of others, and God speaks to me clearest through interaction with others.  But, for years I have heard some of my Christian friends talk about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality.  This issue is ripping our churches apart in most Christian denominations.  It does not have to be so if we would be open to more light and less heat on the subject.

You have heard the words if you’ve grown up in a Christian church.  “Homosexuality is an abomination before God.”  Proof texting (a passage of Scripture used to prove a doctrine) all by itself is as dry as dust and holds no life-giving water for me.

So how do we take the Bible seriously without trying to make every word and each letter to be understood literally?  For me, there are three guidelines to interpreting and understanding what the Bible means to me:

1)  What does the scripture actually say in its full context (audience), and how is it consistent or inconsistent with how Jesus lived and what he taught?

2)  What have Christians said about the meaning of this passage through the ages (tradition) as I do not live my faith in isolation, and I do not have all the truth.

3) Based on my personal experience in the world, with the Spirit’s help, how can I spiritually discern or grow from this truth? In my Baptist upbringing, we called this way of thinking  “the priesthood of every believer.”  In other words, how do I use the brain God gave me to understand a spiritual truth?

I believe many of the people who say “what the Bible says about homosexuality” have never really studied the context of what is written. I have to admit I was one of them.  I did not read and study it myself for many years. I just chose the Bible verses that supported what I already believed, and repeated what I heard others say.  As I have grown older and have known hundreds of persons who are gay through my ministry, and have been exposed to a new way of understanding as a result, my beliefs have changed.

So, let me try to explain what I believe about the Leviticus 18 passage used by many Christians against gay folks.

What does this passage actually say? You can read the entire chapter for yourself here.

The “abomination” word is used in verse 22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”  It also adds a penalty at Leviticus 20:13, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  Few today would advocate the death penalty for all homosexuals, though there are a few.  So why have this sexual rule or ethic?  (Leviticus also says it is an abomination to eat shrimp or shellfish, all kinds of birds are forbidden, and the list goes on).   The context is important to understand.  In other words, I don’t know one Christian who lives by what Leviticus says, except when it supports the point they want to make.

It was the Jewish belief 3,000 years ago that everything to do about human life came from semen (women were not valued in the circle of life since there was no understanding of ovulation and eggs), in other words it all came from the guys only.  So to masturbate or have sex with another male (spilling semen without creating children) was considered murder because no child could be reproduced.  The future of the Jewish people depended on procreation, as it does for every ethnic group.

But there is no understanding here of mutual loving relationships between two males or two females.  It was all about procreation.  But to make the leap that couples who cannot or do not create children as a result of their sexual union disqualifies all of us heterosexual couples who have not been able to, or have chosen not to, have children in their relationships.  I would be in that list.

As a preacher’s kid growing up in Alabama, I remember some members of my father’s church quoting scripture to justify not allowing African Americans to worship in our church (as if they wanted to worship with us), or not allowing African Americans and white people to date, or God forbid, to marry whom they loved regardless of race.  The whole right to marry whom you love, regardless of race or gender, to me seems to be at least a civil (equal) right of every American in the same way that voting is.  They did the same in my seminary years when they wanted to forbid women to be pastors or priests.  But I get ahead of myself.

A minister friend of mine read my blog recently and wrote to me and said, “Malcolm, I appreciate the way you care for people who are homosexual showing them God’s love, but the overwhelming evidence of Scripture is so clear about how wrong that behavior is, when do you help them to see how wrong their lifestyle is?”

“I don’t,” I said without any inflection in my voice.  “I just love them the way I believe God does, and in the way that I want to be loved,” I added.  “I checked my job description when I came to work here in 1994 and I couldn’t find where it said I was supposed to straighten everyone out, so I try to avoid doing that,” I said with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.

I am a third generation ordained Baptist minister.  I have been a minister on the staffs of Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and United Church of Christ Congregational churches.  And now at this time in my life, I am a member of the Episcopal church.  Some people would see the last two sentences as evidence that I am confused about what I believe.  To me, hopefully it means I’m willing to be open to growing and learning from others.  I don’t have the last word about truth.

For me, this scripture is not about mutual loving, respectful, committed relationships between two adults.  It is about making sure there are enough children for the tribe to survive.

My experience in walking with hundreds of people who are gay is that I’ve never known one to say “I chose this way of being.” Rather it is the way they have always been.  The way they were created.  This is my experience in listening to them, maybe yours has been different.

The most loving thing I know to do is to encourage respectful, committed, loving relationships towards whomever he or she is attracted regardless of gender.

This blog is getting too long so I will stop for the day, and maybe add more later.

In the meantime, you can read ALL of the scriptures related to homosexuality in the Bible that most Christians reference:

  1. Leviticus 18 (today’s reading)
  2. Leviticus 20
  3. Genesis 19
  4. Judges 19
  5. Romans 1
  6. I Corinthians 6
  7. I Timothy 1

Want to read more?  I recommend a book called “Those Seven References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible” by The Rev. John F. Dwyer.  There is also an excellent short booklet written by Mel White, “What the Bible Says – And Doesn’t Say, about Homosexuality.”

Thanks for any comments that you have.

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