Tag Archives: Metropolitan Community Churches

Woogie Church

One of the things I love about moving to a new area of the country is all the new “fun facts” you learn. For example, since moving to Northern Virginia, among other things, I’ve learned: 1)Highway 66 is its own little special slice of hell–day or night. In fact,  66 made me briefly re-consider the possibility of hell being a real place. 2) Avoid the Beltway as often as possible–unless you have an E-Z Pass–and even then beware.  3) If it snows more than one inch, work from home–period. 4) Before leaving home make sure the gas tank is full and your bladder is empty.

My education, however, has not been limited to traffic flow–as nerve (and bladder) saving as that education has been. My vocabulary has increased, too. I’ve already shared my thoughts on one new word: Christian-ish. Today I’m sharing a recently new (to me) word: “Woogie.”

I learned this term from yet another colleague (I have such fun and interesting colleagues!).  Unlike with Christian-ish, this time I asked for a definition. Are you ready? From my colleague: “I don’t know that  there is any official definition. For me, I suppose…maybe it would be what would happen if “Weird and “Spooky” had a kid…out there.”

Of course, as is the case with beauty, woogie is in the eye of the beholder.  What is cool, creative and perfectly fine for one person is woogie to another. And to me there is no better example of the “great woogie divide” than church world.

Historically conservative traditions (Church of Christ, most forms of Pentecostalism, Baptists and the Anglicans for example) consider the more liberal traditions (i.e., United Church of Christ, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans and some Presbyterians) rather woogie. And then some (yet not all) of those liberal counterparts point to the Unitarian Universalists and the denomination where I serve–Metropolitan Community Churches–and say to our conservative friends, “You think we’re woogie?  Consider the UU’s and MCC. Now they are woogie!”

Of course the more conservative folk among us don’t think they’re woogie–they prefer to think of themselves as “the faithful remnant.” And let’s be fair, OK? We religious liberals don’t usually like to think of ourselves as woogie, either. We prefer “cutting edge.” Plus we tend to think of our conservative counterparts as pretty woogie, too.

So what makes a church woogie–in a good way? Well, as there is no official definition of woogie, neither is there an official “woogie characteristics list.” So here are my thoughts.

Consider my colleague’s definition; “weird”; “spooky”; “out there.” Using those descriptors, woogie can have a negative connotation, or it can simply represent something quite different–perhaps even in a good way. One thing woogie is not, however, is neutral. Neither, do I believe, is woogie always fashionable. With those thoughts in mind, let’s return to our question, “What makes a church woogie–in a good way?”

For me, woogie churches are inclusive. Inclusivity includes welcoming agnostics, atheists and people of different faiths into full, healthy participation in our churches, as well.  Inclusivity includes the embrace of a variety of social justice issues as resources permit. Inclusivity means an openness to other theological perspectives–whether or not we ultimately accept those perspectives. And just so I’m clear, woogie churches aren’t inclusive to be fashionable and/or increase their attendance and improve their financial positions–although those things could happen.

Now, you may be read this and think, “Wait! Doesn’t that mean you’re neutral–anything goes?” Not at all. Every church has its own culture–its own “vibe,” if you will. And different communities appeal to different people. For example, I pastor a church that is considered culturally Christian; yet we are not neutral in our position that everyone without exception is welcome to participate in positive ways in our church. Most of our folks are not big on cross imagery or atonement theology.  We love Jesus and read from the bible each week in our services. And we read from the writings of other faiths as well as other sources and incorporate those ideas in our reflections.

While we’re culturally Christian, we do not require baptism or a confession of faith in order to receive communion or to become a “voting” member of the community. We feed hungry and homeless people. We march for justice and contact our legislators. We raise money to fight HIV/AIDS. And we don’t do these things to be fashionable. We don’t do these things to punch our tickets for a sweet afterlife or to avoid eternal damnation, either. These–and other–characteristics are simply part of our communal identity. And as much as I love our community, we are far from perfect and realize we can’t be all things to all people. We’re too Christian for some people; we aren’t Christian enough for others. And for other folks, we’re just “right.” You could say we’re both Christian-ish and woogie.

And to me, that’s a good thing…

Blessings on your journeys!

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And Jesus said, “Seriously?”

From “The Message” (Mark 9:38-41)

John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”

Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.”

My first pastorate was in Corpus Christi, Texas. At that time, MCC of Corpus Christi was one of three churches that openly welcomed LGBT people into full participation in our community life. The other churches were affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Please note I said, “openly welcomed.” There were a few other groups who had no real issues with LGBT folk; it was just their denominations didn’t officially sanction the openness of these groups.

Early in my pastorate, I learned from one of our UCC friends that shortly before I arrived there was interest in forming a local interfaith group who would focus on poverty issues in South Texas. I asked how we could learn more about how our church could be part of this group. See, our church was located in the second poorest neighborhood in Corpus Christi. Daily we saw first-hand the impact of poverty and an immigration system that didn’t–and still doesn’t–work.

My friend grew quiet then said, “Well, in one of our organizational meetings I said this was a social justice issue and MCC would be a natural ally. The leader of the group (the leader of a very influential conservative group) said, “Anyone but them.”

I could just imagine Jesus shaking his head and saying, “Seriously?!?”

Isn’t it amazing sometimes how the bible imitates life–or how life imitates the bible?

To me, these two stories are examples of what I call “religious territorialism.” That is, “You aren’t part of our group; and since we own a copyright on the the truth, you aren’t welcome in our club. Oh, and by the way, no good works you do count anyway. So cut it out!”

Have you ever wondered what the disciples in Mark’s story were afraid of? Maybe they were afraid of losing their influence. After all, if just anyone could bring healing and hope to the world by simply accessing the power of all that is just, holy, and peaceful, what makes them so special? How would they be able to build a huge following? Perhaps more to the point, how would they be able to cash in on that following? And if you think I’m too far off track, just pick up a bible and read in the gospels how many times Jesus provided attitude checks to his closest followers.

Now, here’s a potentially disturbing thought: “Are some of us afraid of losing our influence?”

By that comment I mean, “Are some people of all faith traditions so wrapped up in protecting the truth claims of our various traditions that we’re missing the big picture?” While we argue about who we believe is a real Christian/Muslim/Jew/Buddhist/Humanist, etc.–who is part of our groups and who is not–people who need healing, hope, justice and mercy–people who need a cup of cold water in the name of all that is holy–continue to go thirsty.

And Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, Krishna and all that is holy said…

“Seriously?!?”

I Now Pronounce You…

“For as much as Richard and Danny have consented together in holy wedlock in the presence of Almighty God and these friends and family, and have pledged their faith in the love of each other, and have declared the same, by virtue of the power vested in me as a minister of the Gospel by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and the state of Iowa, pronounce them married in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and
Sustainer.  Amen.”

With these words, spoken in Davenport, Iowa on October 16th, 2010, another part of my identity was born—or at least legally recognized in the few states and countries that allow gay marriage, that is. Then on June 1st, 2011, Richard and I were officially “unionized” in the state of Illinois by virtue of our marriage in Iowa last year. In a nutshell, “unionized” means we’re “sort of married” now in the states that recognize civil unions. That is,
we have most of the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples in the state, and none of the federal benefits that come with marriage.

If I sound bitter, don’t misunderstand me. I’m thankful for the progress made on the gay marriage issue. At the same time, our marriage/civil union raised some interesting issues.
For instance, you can imagine how much fun it is now for us to fill out paperwork that requests our marital status, since most of these forms do not have a “unionized” option. I’m tempted to add a box and label it, “It Depends.”

See, in some places we’re married; in some places we’re unionized, and in most places we’re considered legal strangers. Then there is the whole question of what to call us individually: domestic partners? husbands? spouses, or perhaps “crazy”, as some of our friends have jokingly (I think) called us.

We’ve decided we like to be called “Richard and Danny.”

To be honest, however, Richard and I don’t dwell on these and other semantic issues too much; because even after 15 years, we’re too busy still learning how to navigate the joys and challenges of being a couple. Unfortunately, the marriage license didn’t come with a handbook on how to do this thing called “marriage.”

There is one question, however, we’ve discussed at length. Does marriage make a difference in our relationship? Well, no and yes. No, because I still “encourage” (read “nag”) Richard to follow our doctor’s orders about his diet and exercise, as well as his procrastination tendencies as much as I did before we were married. Richard
still “encourages” (read, “nags”) me to be more serious about my writing, about working too many hours, and not spending more time on my favorite hobby, cooking; which then usually leads us back to the whole diet and exercise discussion.

We still share the television remote—and we still roll our eyes at each other’s viewing selections. We still love the children and grandchildren we share, and debate what we think is best for them. Sometimes we even ask for the kids’ opinions. Lately we have been discussing how best to take care of my aging mother and stepfather. Oh, and we still love
each other even after saying, “I do.”

Marriage—and now, civil unions—didn’t change any of these things about our lives. When we were married, a light from heaven didn’t fill the church, and an angelic chorus didn’t break out in song —and fire and brimstone didn’t consume the church and wedding guests, either. We didn’t get married to set an example for the people of the church I pastor; and we didn’t get married so God would love us and recognize our relationship, either. The God of our understanding loves everyone and honors all loving relationships—whether governments recognize them or not.

At the same time, marriage—and now civil unions–did change something about our relationship. I just wish I could succinctly name that something. All I know is that “something”—whatever it is—feels good and peaceful.

Who knows? Maybe I should quit trying to analyze it, and simply enjoy the blessing that is
our marriage/civil union/domestic partnership/friendship.

Blessings on all your relationships!