How I Changed My Mind

I’ll admit it.

Once upon a time when it came to homosexuality I was in the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” camp. I mean, it was so clearly against God’s law. It said so right there in one or two verses in my Bible. Besides, I didn’t know any gay people.

Well, actually I did. One of my first escorts to a winter dance was a gay guy in our youth group. Except no one openly said he was gay. There were just some oblique remarks about the fact that he was different, maybe he was “that way.” I didn’t care. He was a great dancer and I had a great time.

As I got older I was scared of looking at the issue directly. It was so different from my experience and that foreignness felt like threat. Still, I eventually decided that I owed it to myself to consider the issue more in depth.

Two things happened.

The first is that I read a book. Entitled, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, it provided for me a context for the biblical verses regarding homosexuality. I realized that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality but a terrible abuse of the Middle Eastern hospitality mandate. For the first time I considered what sort of practices Paul was really railing against, and the fact that he had no model of a committed, monogamous gay relationship.

Ironically, I’d been on the wrong side of selective scripture myself. I came along as a woman called to ministry in the eighties in the Southern Baptist Convention, a time when that issue was part of the dividing line between folks on one side and different folks on the other. I’d had people tell me straight out and to my face that I must be wrong because after all, Paul said that women should keep silence.

Of all people, I understood the dangers of proof texting. In reading this book and others I finally understood that we’d been doing the same thing to gays and lesbians.

A second thing happened that was just as important and even more powerful. Openly gay people started coming to my church. When they found welcome they told of other experiences, like being met at the doors of churches and told not to come in because “we don’t want your kind here.”

(Parenthetically, let me just say I cannot imagine Jesus ever saying such a thing.) 

They told me of the anguish and sometimes near suicidal despair of trying to reconcile being who God made them to be and who God’s people demanded that they be. I saw a brilliant, kind, funny and deeply faithful man face his own death with fear that the fundamentalist preachers were right. This man who’d followed Jesus his whole life at the end of that life feared going to hell.

I’ve seen them care for partners whom they could not marry, in sickness and in health. I’ve seen them care for their friends and give sanctuary to abandoned and abused four legged friends. I’ve laughed with them and been inspired as they’ve shared their gifts in worship. I’ve seen them care for Christ’s body, the church, doing what needs to be done for the church as a whole and for individuals within it. I’ve seen some of them be deeply involved and others just show up on the occasional Sunday – kind of like the rest of us.

I’ve seen my friends love God and love people.

If this be the gay agenda, then by God, may they be successful in overtaking our culture.

When I was called on staff of that church I was the first ordained woman to serve. One of the older members later admitted that she couldn’t understand why we were calling a woman when “there were so many fine male ministers around.” After confessing this to me, she said, “but then I met you and saw that you were going to be my friend.”

I met these folks, and saw that they were going to be my friends, and in that I was blessed indeed.

Reading the book opened my mind. Embracing my friends opened my heart.

I have to disagree with something President Obama said after the Supreme Court handed down its decision. He lauded the “small acts of courage” that led to this day, like people coming out. With all due respect, Mr President, that’s no small act of courage. That’s a great big, knees knocking, heart pounding, doing it even though your life may change forever act of courage.

Through these roller coaster weeks it has become increasingly evident to me that we cannot afford not to know each other. Law enforcement and citizens, black and white, gay and straight, popular and outcast. We need to know each others’ stories and to catch a glimpse of each others’ worlds. Only then can we truly hear with our hearts what the other is trying to say.

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Why Do We Need Churches?

Why Do We Need Churches?

This morning I saw the story of a 91 year old man who came home from his cancer treatment at the hospital to an empty kitchen. He had no food and no way of getting food. Out of desperation he called 911. The operator and her supervisor agreed to let her take him some groceries, then help get him signed up with support services.

You see, this is why we need church. We need communities to support us when we are frail or sick or disabled. We need communities to step in and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Of course, there are other nonprofits. Out of necessity, however, their mission has to be focused and limited. Used to be you could count on your neighbors or extended family to step in. These days most families are smaller and many are spread out across the country and around the world. Some people have neighbors they can call on. Many others wouldn’t know a neighbor’s name to make a call.

There is no shortage of things the church gets wrong these days. There is no shortage of sins for which we need to make heartfelt confession. There is no shortage of challenges of which we’re still trying to figure out the answers.

But for once, can we talk about what church – what local churches – get right?

I’ve not been a member of a ton of churches. I tend to go and stay put in a place. But here’s what I’ve seen. Older folks get their lawns mowed, even when they’re crotchety about the mowing. Kids have adult friends who are not related to them but who care about them and care for them. Tired new parents have two dozen other arms to hold (and love on) their baby for an hour or two a week. Someone who never had a family before experiences what it feels like to be connected.

My present church is in a partnership with a local school, a partnership that continues to grow. Through it kids are tutored and have new buddies. Through a partnership with Bookmarks, every child was given a book of his or her own. Every child who needed a warm winter coat received one. Think about it. Not one child at that school went cold last winter for the want of a winter coat.

When I was in a wheelchair for two months my church, located thirty miles away, brought me meals every week. When my parents were dying, my church held me up with love and care and just checking in not just on them, but on me. When I was a kid and faced with circumstances that told me that I was worthless the people of my church told me that I was priceless and treated me as if it was true.

By its nature, a lot of the caring that goes on in a church has to be kept confidential. Some needs don’t need to be trumpeted. And by our nature a lot of us don’t like calling attention to such things because it runs counter to the whole spirit of why we do it and Who we’re serving by doing it.

Civic clubs adopt schools as well. And the tennis team can rally around a fallen member. But the church not only does these things but also reaches out to those who would otherwise fall through the cracks, like a 91 year old cancer patient coming home.

Maybe we don’t talk about it much because we really do it out of a kind of self interest. We do it because Jesus said that’s where we’d find him.

Who are you today?

I’ve been reading Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires: Adventures of a food critic in disguise. Reichl served as food critic for the New York Times, although you may know her, as I do, as a judge on Top Chef. One of the challenges of any food critic is remaining anonymous. Before she even arrived in New York for her interview with the Times, local restaurants had her picture on the wall for employees to see. Of course, if you’re found out a food critic the visit is worthless; you’ll get the very best treatment possible.

When Reichl began working for the times she began getting creative with her disguises. With the help of her friends she began creating not only a disguise but a persona, crafting a story that fit her character. She enjoyed this rather advanced version of playing dress up. What took her by surprise, however, was how different she felt inside the garb of each woman. With some she felt free and outgoing; with others she felt burdened and invisible.

But she didn’t just feel different; she was treated differently. From the doorman of her apartment building to the taxi drivers to the restaurant staff, her interactions varied widely according to her disguise. Sometimes people were eager to engage with her. Other times people are just as eager to hide from her.

All of which made me think: what guises do we put on? As you prepare for the day, do you put on the emotional clothes of the failure and screw-up who can’t do anything right? Do you wear the jacket of a victim who never seems to win? Do you put on confidence or a trusting curiosity about the world?

Just as Reichl discovered, the people we become affects the people we meet.

Tomorrow morning as you prepare for your day, ask yourself: Who am I today? Who do I want to be? Who do I choose to be?


memoir coverI am very pleased to announce that my latest book, I Don’t Remember Signing Up for This Class is now available in paperback through Amazon. Here’s what some people are saying about it:

“This book is riveting, powerful, and most of all hopeful. I read it in one day, but know it will stay with me for a long time.” (Anonymous amazon review – 5 stars)

“Peggy Haymes offers a vision of grace sorely needed in our wounded culture.” (Dr. Molly T. Marshall)

“It is a courageous and witty account of triumphantly and gracefully meeting life’s challenges.” (Dr. Brian Gersho)

“Truth-telling at its most authentic, heart-wrenching and life-affirming fills these pages.” (Rev. Alicia Porterfield)

Read more here.

Order your copy here


Misplaced Grammar Guardians

First, a shameless plug:

On Saturday December 7 @ 11 am I’ll be at Barnhill’s bookstore in Winston-Salem reading from and signing my latest book, Strugglers, Stragglers and Seekers. Come and join us!

Speaking of books, I was in a bookstore the other day browsing through chapter books. One of the readers in our family has reached the milestone of moving beyond picture books and I am more than happy to get him started in this new category.

I had such fun. I loved discovering all of the new (to me) series. Friends who are also parents gave enthusiastic recommendations. I looked forward to the day when I could start him on Harry Potter books and he would know not only Luke Skywalker but Harry Potter. And Dumbledore. And of course, Ron and Hermione.

But I digress.

Wandering through the shelves was like being at a party filled with old friends. I loved so many of those books.

When my elementary school classmates started reocnnecting one of the memories talked about was the Scholastic Book Club. For me the catalogues that came out every ordering period were better than the big, fat Sears Wishbook because they were filled with books. There were so many books. I don’t remmber the prices but I know they were dirt cheap. There were so many books and I wanted to read nearly all of them.

My mother had to give me a budget.  I could order that many and no more. Black Stallion, Island Stallion… I devoured all of the horse books. And the Guinness World Record Books. And I was perhaps the only girl in the school system to order Instant Replay, the diary of one of Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer’s championship season. (What can I say? I had brothers.)

The days when the Scholastic Book Club orders came in were exciting days in our classrooms. We each welcomed the small brown boxes for the treasure that they were.

When  I read the reviews of one of the series that many parents enthusiastically recommended to me, some of the reviewers were critical of the books and reluctiant to sure them with their kids. It seems that the writer used sentence fragments. And started sentances with and. Not proper English. The parents were dismayed that their precious children might be exposed to such poor writing at such a young age.

booksThose parents had it all wrong. We don’t need to worry about whether or not our children are reading books with proper grammar (which, incidentally would also eliminate folks like Mark Twain.) We need to make sure that kids are reading books that are good stories.

The purpose of reading at this age isn’t to teach them the proper use of prepositions. It’s to help them fall in love with words and stories. Recent studies have shown that readers of fiction tend to be more compassionate… because we have spent time experiencing other people’s lives. In a world filled with video games and televisions of every size, we want to help kids fall in love with the magic of reading a story.

I come from a long line of grammar correcting people, but they also knew the wonder of a story. As do I.

And if it takes a sentence fragment or two to get there, I can live with that. Always.

It’s Always Something

A friend commented today that she wasn’t getting my blog anymore. I had to come clean and admit that she wasn’t getting one because I hadn’t written anything in a few days. Well, almost a month if you’re going to be picky about it.

This is the cover.
This is the cover.

A large portion of my time was spent getting my latest book finished and ready to be launched last week. I’m glad to announce that the book is finished, printed and sent out into the world.

People have asked me how long it took to write. Here’s the thing: when you write a year’s worth of daily devotions you’re pretty much setting yourself up for writing about 366 devotions. (My former 6th grade teacher checked to make sure I’d remembered leap year provisions. I did.)

I started writing a lifetime ago; really, several lifetimes. Life kept interrupting me and throwing me off course. Accident and injury. Healing and physical therapy. Illness and death of people close to me. Sorting through a lifetime of memories in the form of a house and its contents. Caring for people who had cared for me.

My first year as an Associate Minister I kept waiting for the “slow time of the year.” About the time I celebrated my first anniversary there  I realized there was no such thing. With this book, I kept waiting for the “slow time,” the time when things would settle down. Still waiting.

Because, as Rosanne Rosannadanna reminded us, it’s always something. (Here’s a link in case you missed the comedy treasure that was Gilda Radner.) If you wait for the perfect time to write a book, to write a letter, to right a wrong you’ll never do it. Because there is no perfect time. There are only times that are marginally more manageable than others.

What are you waiting for? what are you waiting to do? Who are you waiting to be?

Now’s as good a time as any other to start.