It’s about having a voice…

Stroking the tiger’s whiskers…

Remember, I write as though no one is reading… so don’t expect too much from any of this; it’s really just me rambling on…

Twentieth Century Jesuit Priest, celebrated paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin once accused the Vatican of “stroking the whiskers of the tiger”, careful not to stir anything that would upset the institution and control of the faithful. His writings and forward thinking prevented most of his works from being published until after his death in 1956.

It’s hard to imagine Jesus saying “Here, kitty, kitty…” and it is even more impossible to think of him stroking the whiskers of power or ego of any unjust system, especially one that diminished the promises of God and God’s love for all. Yet, so many institutions of faith founded on Jesus’ teachings have been careful to go too far beyond the whiskers for fear of an over-reaction to their carefully laid plans for expansion, growth and power. Teilhard de Chardin challenged all this and much more. It’s easy to see why a feckless Holy See banished him to China.

Still, Teilhard never lost his faith or his optimism, in spite of it all, even while serving in WWI as a stretcher bearer, face-to-face with the underside “of the beast”, its claws, fangs and all of war that I have never known. (Thank you to all who have served.) Essentially, he never stopped believing that the power of God in humanity would eventually win out over the power of self-serving self-important bloated hubris and ego (that about covers it). I have always appreciated de Chardin’s writings, and especially his prayers. One of my favorites, “Patient Trust” begins like this:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.

“…Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give [God] the benefit of believing
that [God’s] hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin

None of this ever meant that he stopped calling on the Church of Jesus Christ to be the Church of Jesus Christ. It never meant that he put off the needs of the moment for a more convenient time, perhaps one when enough votes for a resolution would be collected to succeed. It never meant that he stepped back and acquiesced to power and dominion, especially when it meant stroking that which needed to be totally disgorged.  His expansive view gathered up his own times, anxious for an acceleration to a future when the embodiment of the Christ in us reached the Cosmic Christ of Word and Logos. It appears that his institution (and maybe some of ours) had forgotten how to nurture that Christ. For the small glimpse of what that might be like and the diluted effort to reach its glory – I am saddened. Still…

I have come to believe that the fullness of who we are created to be is the ultimate goal of any faithful and worthwhile life. A life that is always disturbed by a longing that can only be completed in the final reunion, No wonder we often recognize what Teilhard said about the ongoing nature of the impatience, suspense and incompleteness we feel. That deeply-embedded impatience and longing that resists any call to accept injustice as individuals or in our  institutions. Injustice that marginalizes others. It is an impatience that resists the inability to find a voice in speaking out  in the face of diminishing moral behavior, tolerating silence instead of confrontation as the rail cars rumble on their way to Auschwitz. 

“Who do you say I am,” Jesus asks. Not who did the disciples, historians or contrarian leaders at National Prayer Breakfasts say I am. Who do you, in your time in your day say that I am? Perhaps that is the simple most profound question to be asked next or in any time or assembly in which we gather.

And, until our religious institutions reach beyond those whiskers, it’s hard to see how we will ever get beyond,  “Here, kitty kitty…but not too close.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
That All May Freely Serve, Chaplain
Validated Ministry of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley
02.07.2020; ray@nulltamfs.org; 631-827-8611

Currently serving as pastor of
Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ
Sayville, New York

“I don’t need to be ordained.”

It was my last meeting with my Committee on Preparation for Ministry in the Presbytery of Hudson River. Seminary was done; ordination exams completed; supervised ministry; Greek; Hebrew; and my first of four units of CPE. All that was left (at this point!) was to be cleared to seek a call. It was around mid-2003.

I think it was Jack Hoffmeister on the committee who asked me, “What’s different for you now, as you look back on when all this began for you five years ago?” I hadn’t given that question much thought, although I knew the answer by that time: “I realize that I don’t need to be ordained. I just need to follow the path and trust that whatever God has in mind for me, ordination or not, will unfold as it should.” (Shades of Desiderata!)

It was true. I had learned that nothing was certain as a queer person, a gay man, in seeking ordination. I had learned this from others whose stories and personhoods I came to know, folks like Bill Silver, Sandy Brawders, Chris Glaser. There were no assurances for ordination in the midst of strident discrimination by the denomination. The hoped-for outcome of the process, once again, took a back seat to the importance of the process, itself. Not to realize this was to be harmed even greater by the church that had become fitful in its overall treat of its LGBTQ community.

It seems my Presbytery on Preparation for Ministry understood all this, too, some of which we learned together, I am sure – but deeply they understood the Presence, power and freedom inherent in the call process, especially when prophetic. So many of you know this, too, and have been and continue to be faithful and amazing allies!

As it turns out, I would be ordained in 2005, called to serve Palisades Presbyterian Church in Palisades, New York as Interim Pastor. At the time, Interim Ministers agreed not to apply for the permanent position, once the interim work was done. It was part of the Book of Order. Had that been otherwise, I might have still been there; it was that wonderful of a loving congregation. I am so grateful to them; to South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry (under whose life-changing care I served) and to the Presbytery of Hudson River, and its EP David Prince. Like too few other congregations and Middle Governing Bodies in the PC(USA), they led the way so others could follow, not being held hostage to “waiting for a better time.” (Never understood that one; still don’t.)

Also true is this: The “process” of justice and radical inclusionary hospitality continues today; congregations will still not consider, let alone call, a queer person. Still for every congregation that does—we see God a bit more clearly in one another and ourselves. Now, there’s “evangelism” for you! Well, at least for me. 🙂

So, I write as though no one is reading—but, if you did get this far and your congregation is searching for a pastor, I ask you to join in this continuing process and request that the Pastoral Nominating Committee and your Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry be sure to invite a qualified queer person as a candidate into the search. We are easier to find than you think. You just might find who it is your have been searching for!

I still don’t need to be ordained, by the way, but I am humbled and grateful to be.

Peace,
Ray

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
That All May Freely Serve, Chaplain
Validated Ministry of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley
02.07.2020; ray@nulltamfs.org; 631-827-8611

Currently serving as pastor of
Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ
Sayville, New York

If you know, please tell me. With love to my CPM.

“Right matters here.” When I heard Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman say that during the House hearings, I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I was holding. 

“Right matters here.” I repeat it as a mantra. “Right matters here.”

Any voice that says such a thing is always a voice from the wilderness, echoed in return with “What’s right?” “Who’s right?” “What makes you think you’re right?”

I don’t know what makes “you right” or even “me right.” I just know that right matters and I want it to matter here. Where I am; where you are. I want the fuzziness of self-serving rhetoric and unbridled untruths to be arrested. The endless studies and debates to mean something. Not to self-serve in opposition but to serve as we have been called to, bringing the gospel truths and teachings and the way of life that Jesus taught, the Light that he reflected – that Light—into the world through our actions and practices and the way we live – now. Today. Every day. I know, that’s probably a lot to want.

I am sure that there were those on my Committee on Preparation for Ministry who wondered how a queer person, me – a gay person, could be sitting before them. I know there were those on the committee, perhaps all of them, who were concerned about the dangers ahead. (That still gives me pause today as I write this, to think there would be dangers in pursuing a call in the church, whew…) – but they put these aside. In their own way, they said: “Right matters here” and what was right was to help me to discern a call; not judge me but help me, regardless of their wonder about whether I belonged there as a gay man or the dangers I might face. It was all greater, much greater than that.

I had an amazing Committee on Preparation. When I would meet with them, I would feel as though they had created a space in their midst for the Spirit, with an invitation to join them on my journey. I say that, because I realized they were on my journey only toward the end of the time together. They had joined with me, to challenge and support me and in the end, as we finished our time together, to be with me going forward. I was not being cleared for ministry; we were. I still serve with them today, over fifteen years later.

 What is it that changes what is “right” from one group to the next? Is there really an argument about what the Great Commandment calls us to do? Can we proof-text our way to rationalization, covering up our own need for a sense of decency and order that becomes anything but where it really matters?

I don’t know. I really don’t. I just pray for more Committees on Preparation who leave room for the Spirit and join in on the journey with others who are called, not as judges but as Light bearers that trust in God.

It pains me when we debate who’s in and who’s out. What ever made us think we have the right to do such a thing; to mislead, incite fear and damnation to get our way? How could that ever be right?

I don’t know. If you do, please tell me.

With love to my CPM and all like them.

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
That All May Freely Serve, Chaplain
Validated Ministry of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley
01.31.2020; ray@nulltamfs.org; 631-827-8611

“Keep your head low and follow the Book of Order!”

That’s the response of my Executive Presbyter (EP) back in the day when I asked.” How do I navigate the ordination process as an openly gay man?”

Well, I knew his admonition wouldn’t work for me. I had already left the Roman Church over being gay and “keeping my head low” (read: being in the closet) – it had nearly killed me. Interestingly, this person considered themselves an ally.

So, I just kept going with the support and encouragements of some amazing folks at South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, others in the presbytery and elsewhere. As I finished seminary and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), I continued to seek a call. My next EP told me point-blank, “You’ll never get an installed call as pastor in this presbytery. You bring the threat of charges against the congregation and the presbytery. We’re not ready for that.” (Read: you’re too out.) Another ally.

Ouch!

At this point, I had been in business for 20 years, taught in private and public schools for the next 20, and had just finished five years of seminary at night while teaching full-time high school. So, I didn’t discourage easily, mostly because I didn’t know any better. The courage of others in this struggle kept me going. G-6. 0106b loomed, but so did Presbyterians who knew better, among them a group of twelve congregations that went by the name Acts of Conscience, which refused to abide by this Amendment. I stuck with them. Still do. These folks and many more of you are a wonderful, wily, faithful, courageous bunch! Generous, too. In those days and since, you needed to be generous to stay in the struggle knowing what you would be subjected to. You did what you did for the others who would follow more than for yourself. So many of you truly are Rock Stars and Prophets.

Behold! I did get called and ordained to Palisades Presbyterian Church in Palisades, NY as an Interim Pastor, part-time. What a great and loving and strong group of folks, much like South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, under whose care I’d had been. What a difference these folks and others like them have made in the lives of so many. It was 2005 and I was 54 years old.

A lot has happened between then and now—a lot. I sought a call in the PC(USA) for more than a decade. I was never installed as a pastor until twelve years later at Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ, where I serve now, in my 4th year as pastor at 68 years old.

I lost count of the rejections I received in the PC(USA) along the way. And for Queer folk who have been through this journey—it’s not an uncommon display of bias (nor is it for women and others). But this is what I know. (Perhaps some of you will write about your experiences.)

Anyway, I kept trying.

In fact, after several weeks of open and transparent conversations with a search committee that had called me, I accepted an invitation to do a candidating sermon for an interim call in the PCUSA – 320 miles North of the Arctic Circle. No kidding. As much as the committee wanted to call me, two days before I was to plan the trip to the “Land of the Midnight Sun” – I got a call.

They asked me if I was celibate. Session wanted to make sure I wasn’t, well…whatever. I explained that that was really an inappropriate question but I understood why they asked. I answered directly. I explained that I was not in a relationship, may never be in a relationship, but that I was not celibate.

A day later I got a phone call, “Thanks, Ray, but we are going to keep looking…”

Well, that was it. I was done. How far would I have to go to get a call? It seems like it was time to get in my kayak and keep going. (I really don’t have kayak; just sayin’.)

Still, I knew better. I knew a call was not a position or a job, necessarily. It was to be who you are so others might know you and the God who loves you and lives in you. Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr, who many of you know, once told me that when we do this work as openly Queer people, we sometimes become the curriculum for others, so they can know us. I thought I was called to Alaska. Turns out the call was to be in the process. Maybe that helped them. I hope so.

It took a while, but I can see how it helped me, too.

And I think that’s the point I would like to share. Perhaps “a call” is really a process and a charge to live into the process, being who we are, open, affirming, courageous, prophetic, generous, transparent and unwilling to hide who it is God has created us to be. How could we serve others if we weren’t who we were?

For me, the process certainly isn’t keep my head low; nor is it to allow others’ fears to chart my path. Besides, I have enough work to do keeping my own fears out of the way.

Ray Bagnuolo, HR
Minister of Word and Sacrament
That All May Freely Serve
01.24.2020; ray@nulltamfs.org; 631-827-8611

Would you vote for Jesus? 

Jesus for President of the United States…

But first this: 
Evangelicals for Trump! (From the website by the same name.) “Evangelicals for Trump Are Ready To Help Re-Elect President Donald J. Trump in 2020. Join The Movement Today and Ensure Religious Freedoms Are Kept As A Top Priority. Protect Religious Freedom. Vote Trump 2020. Keep America Great. Stand With Trump. Paid for by DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT, INC. Evangelicals.DonaldJTrump.com

This reelection coalition that was recently introduced by the President at El Rey Jesus Church in Miami – got me thinking. 

First, a disclaimer. I struggle with the idea of Evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants or any broadly identified institutions of faith being for (or against) any political candidate. First, I don’t think there is such a thing as everyone in a denomination or faith tradition of any size being for one candidate. So, the private and public position of institutions of faith being for or against a particular candidate inherently divides that community – or mutes those who might disagree with the position. And, this type of campaigning also divides us on religious/faith grounds from one another, diminishing (I think) the role of faith in our lives together. This co-opting of faith for institutional political gain does not appeal to me; it feels as though it cheapens something very sacred. 

I do believe that my voice/our voice, rooted in faith, has an authority to speak about policy and candidates who might move those policies forward. As a person of faith, my authority for speaking out against or for certain legislation is incumbent upon me. Likewise for congregations that take a position on gun control, human trafficking, abhorrent immigration practices, poverty, exclusion of people who are Queer as full participants in church and society and more. We are supposed to speak out, take positions…I believe.

For me, the motives get more blurry when support for a candidate turns to proselytization, saying things like:  “God called this person; God often calls imperfect people to implement God’s will. This candidate is divinely chosen by God.”  That last part is probably true, but only as true as it is that God has chosen me for the highest secular office in this USA. (Jk)

God always uses us to move God’s will forward. And, by nature, humans are imperfect, if only because we are incomplete until reunited again in God’s Eternal Love. It’s just that it gets icky for me when unacceptable behavior that might be considered uncharitable, illegal or worse – gets lumped in to a benign categorization of the theological imperfection of human nature as an excuse.  (Spoiler Alert: And if it get us what we want – it’s ok.)

So, it brings me back to my question. If God nominated Jesus to be President do you think folks would vote for Jesus? Do you think all these folks seeing a particular candidate as appointed by their Savior would vote for Jesus and all his teachings? Would they really work to turn Matthew 25 into a way of life for a nation and the world?  Do you think folks who had them – would give up the second tunic, the second house, the second car? Would they lend money without interest? Would they allow everyone to sit at their table – as a equally loved by God? Would gated communities be “ungated”? Would they really vote for someone who would call them to practice and live into The Great Commandment, by someone who had with the ultimate authority to do so?

Would they really vote for Jesus as a way of moving beyond our own inherent imperfection, or is it all just a campaign line of an organized few that really doesn’t reflect their true faith authority at all, rather just a parsing of faith to the degree it produces a particular outcome? If so, that is truly very sad.

Would we really vote for Jesus. I don’t know… but it would be something, wouldn’t it?!

Ray Bagnuolo
1/15/2020; ray@nulltamfs.org
631-827-8611; www.facebook.com/TAMFS

 

Can we really live with that?

Watching the Methodist Church go through recent plans to divide over welcoming queer people in the full work and worship of the church reminds a lot of us of our own struggle in the PCUSA. That is bad enough to remember but to remember the root cause of it all is worse. Much worse. According to enough people to split a church, queer people are an aberration and do not belong in their places of worship, unless willing to change to be, well, like them. In other words, “We reject you, because God rejects you.”

It doesn’t matter that a split is proposed to address “the issue” – it matters that we haven’t figured out how to accept others in ways that keep us together, modeling for one another and the world the inclusive love of God. Trust me, I know every argument used to rationalize actions of division; every way that scriptures are twisted to give credibility to those who reject others because they are LGBTQ+. And they are wrong. Whether they agree with that or not, I know it is true. And what they are doing is terribly harmful and dangerous: rejecting others in God’s name has a profound impact on people in enormous ways. The impact of such actions, themselves, should be enough to change hearts and minds.

This is about more than one denomination’s polity or structure, this is about our failure in bringing God’s love to all.

We try, but something stops us from going “too far” in welcoming. The PCUSA offered a minimal apology for those in the gay community “who might have been harmed by the church; that it was never the church’s intention to do so.” That’s hard to write and hard to read.

As institutions do, we and others prove again that without a dislocation of comfort – there is no courage. The PCUSA missed our chance for courage as a denomination to acknowledge the harms we have done to the LGBTQ+ Community; clearly state that we were wrong; and that we are determined to change, even in the face of opposition. We failed to lead.

It this was just a game of institutional chess, who care? However, the impact of religious institutions’ failures in the way our queer community is welcomed; how we accept our prophetic role in bringing that message to the world — that failure means queer kids die, believing they are rejected and worse, unloved by God.

Can we really live with that.?

It seems so… again.  

Ray Bagnuolo, 01.07.20
Ray@nulltamfs.orf 631-827-8611

I hope we know what we are doing…

There are some pretty ruthless, cruel and murderous people in the world. I don’t know why that is so, but it is. When they have power, the extent of their cruelty multiplies, exponentially. Yesterday, one of those people by all accounts was assassinated by the U.S. with drone missiles on the orders of our President and the military he leads. “Just war” and “just actions of war” have always left me morally conflicted. I don’t know the answers. I want the end of state-sponsored terrorism and all its unspeakable results; I want our troops and citizens and security to be protected with swift and carefully considered proactive and reactive responses. I want harm to innocent people never to be acceptable. And, I hope and pray that these actions by our President and the military are the right responses…even though, even though I feel the nauseous unease I’ve known before at the prospects of escalation and unintended consequences of similar actions. I hope we know what we are doing…and I don’t know what else to say.

Ray Bagnuolo, 01.03.20
Ray@nulltamfs.org; 631-827-8611

There’s Always Trouble…

He knew, I think, that there was trouble ahead. He had to. He set his face, “steeled it” as one of the translations says, and headed into Jerusalem – whatever else he knew, he knew what he was called to do – and he did it. 

It’s easy to look for easier softer ways of getting somewhere. Safer ways. More comfortable, less disruptive, predictable even popular ways. 

Approval, acclaim applause. Did only he understand the cost of what he was trying to do? It turned out the accolades meant nothing, at least to him. If they did –  he would have chosen a different way — or no way, just stayed home quiet, even if the stones cried out. 

I write like no one is listening and I hope they aren’t sometimes. I really don’t want to piss anyone off; I don’t want to create controversy or be confrontational. I don’t want to judge other’s motives or actions — as much as I sometimes do want to say, “What the…”

I still think that tables need to be overturned, not literally (?) but in a way that makes it clear that what is being served up is not acceptable. 

This is the way I am, and at this moment I am the sum of everything that has gone before in my life, hopefully moving in the spirit with enough awareness to tone down the frustration — but not to zero. 

There is no zero. There’s always trouble. Always frustration. It’s why we are here, I think.

“Things are different. The world is more complex. This is not First Century Palestine,” they say

Still, we read the ancient texts, say the prayers, repeat the traditions, embrace the sacraments (from 2 to 7, depending) — and we keep it far enough in the past for our institutions not to miss opportunities for setting the tables nicely, if exclusively.

That’s why we are here. You, me, us. The non-institutional components that see some of the tables differently.

Good we’re here. Happy New Year.

Thanks for not listening, or at least not getting too ticked off at me.

But, if you must…may it be so.

Ray Bagnuolo, 01.01.20
631-827-8611; Ray@nulltamfs.org 

A world apart, I guess…

As if no one is reading…How many folks spoke about the shooting in the Texas church this weekend or the stabbing and spate of anti-Semitic attacks headlining the news? How many of us prayed for those caught up in the violence…
I hope many of us, for our denomination’s voice continues to be quiet, compartmentalized, silent.
I went to the pcusa.org website again this morning, hoping that maybe this church had the awareness and courage to step into the call for healing, especially since other communities of faith were impacted.
On our website, i did find a new heading (12/30/19) for a Texas Church – “Texas church takes a different approach to worship” promoting the Co-Moderators Book Study: “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission.”
Less than 200 miles away from the Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas (the church in the focus of the video/book discussion )– the congregation reeling from a shooting that killed people inside worship on Sunday was in shock and mourning. Austin, Tx to White Settlement: 197 miles apart; might as well be a world apart.
It’s not that our voice is “silent” in the somber nature of these moments – which is not good in itself; but our voice chooses to not even recognize in a public way the tragedies and sufferings of our extended family in worship, praising God in different ways, perhaps, but still praising the same God.
Or maybe that’s where I have it wrong….maybe we don’t see others, some others, as family enough to speak out. I don’t know… I’m hoping someone is listening; still I often write as though no one is.

Ray Bagnuolo, 12.30.19
Cell & Text: 631-827-8611
ray@nulltamfs.org; www.facebook.com/tamfs

As if no one is reading…

Keeping TAMFS alive has always been about making sure its voice was always there and real. A funny thing about the voices in our world, they often don’t sound real. I think that’s mostly because we work hard to keep our audience in mind, so we craft things in ways that often make limited sense.

For examples:

  • If you are Donald J. Trump, your craft things to piss people off, that is the people who your base have come to believe they are at odds with.
  • If you are a mainline denomination, like the one I left as a gay man or even the one which ordained me, you craft things nationally to keep “the middle” in mind. That way, you don’t piss anyone off enough that they might want to leave.
  • (Sorry if this is sounding a little pissy.)

And the voice in many of these types of scenarios has no relevant meaning and whatever compassion might trickle in – is more of a literary device than an example of fortitude.

All that to say, my idea here is to write and vblog as though no one is reading. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this will be totally unfiltered going into 2020 (I mean, I think my mom might read this once on a while). Nor do I want to make this another tribal gathering place for partisan barbs that challenge the specific art form “45” has made so effective. I just want to share my voice without too much thought and hopefully hear yours. And since no one is reading… it may just be me for a while, listening to myself. That’s fine.

So I will end and start from here. I truly believe that faith communities have a God-given critical place in the unfolding of it all, in this eschatological continuum we share. That conviction revolves around the center of my heart and will be at the core of all I say, without being concerned about the audience that is not listening.

Should be real.

Ray Bagnuolo 12.28.19

Cell & Text: 631-827-8611
ray@nulltamfs.org; www.facebook.com/tamfs

This is not just the news… It’s a call for a voice…

Almost every day this week there has been a hate crime committed against our Jewish friends in New York. First, my heart aches again for the pain and suffering and loss of these families and communities, heinous crimes committed against them for what they believe, where they come from, who they are.
 
In times like this and others, we need national prayer, statements of solidarity, expressions of outrage, and determined leaders whose statements precede any I might write.
It is not politics to call for leadership to stop weighing responses and be a “Healer in Chief.”
It is not disrespectful to expect every faith tradition, institutional religion and denomination to be raising their voices and turning their pulpits and webpages into a call for prayer, compassion love and demanding national leadership to speak out and stand with those mourning and wondering, “Are we next?”
 
Visit your denomination or faith tradition’s website and you may find headings like I did this morning: articulate, safe and absent.
 
Is it a wonder “relevance” is often a topic of government and religion?
 
Today, I pray and ask you to do the same; ask to be led in ways you can help; ask for your voice that comes from your depth of outrage and the God of your understanding. Do what you can…
 
And mourn with those reeling from violence…

Ray Bagnuolo 12.29.19

 
 

Cell & Text: 631-827-8611
ray@nulltamfs.org; www.facebook.com/tamfs