Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Kind of Telephone Line Through Time

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  ~ 1 Cor. 15:1-8

A long time ago, when I was a young mother, I received a birthday gift of the album “Rites of Passage” by the Indigo Girls. One of the songs on that album was called, of all things, “Virginia Woolf.” Here are some of its lyrics.

They published your diary
And that's how I got to know you
The key to the room of your own and a mind without end
And here's a young girl
On a kind of a telephone line through time
And the voice at the other end comes like a long lost friend
So I know I'm all right
Life will come and life will go
Still I feel it's all right
Cause I just got a letter to my soul
And when my whole life is on the tip of my tongue
Empty pages for the no longer young
The apathy of time laughs in my face
You say, "each life has its place" …

Emily Saliers, who is one of the Girls, wrote that song. Emily is a PK—Preacher’s Kid. Her dad is Don Saliers, a United Methodist pastor and theologian. They wrote a book together on singing as a spiritual practice—A Song to Sing, a Life to Live. I mention all this because when I listen to this song, I hear echoes from this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.

They published your diary… they told your story… that’s how I got to know you.

The key to a room of your own and a mind without end… the key to the life of Jesus Christ, and life without end.

And here’s a young girl, on a kind of telephone line through time… and he appeared to his followers, and last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

This scripture passage is about the Good News coming to Paul on a kind of telephone line through time. Paul got a letter to his soul: the message he received, and that he also passed on to the church in Corinth. Despite time and distance. Despite, in Paul’s case, an inclination to disbelieve, or even revile. Despite all these things… the message arrived. The message on which he stood, and through which he was saved.

The message from Virignia Woolf... well, I don't know if it saved Emily Saliers’ life. Her mom was a librarian (Emily tells the story in her intro the song on "1200 Curfews," a fantastic live double album). Her mom found the book for her and sent it to her. Did Mrs. Saliers sense that Emily was having a rough time, for some reason? Did she have any reason to believe her daughter might be struggling with, perhaps, her sexual identity? I don't know. It's all conjecture. But Emily sings in this song that, after immersing herself in that life, after meeting Virginia Woolf as one “untimely born,” Emily knew she was alright.

“Rites of Passage” came out in 1992. Both Indigo Girls—who have never been a couple—came out as lesbians in 1994.

Did Virginia Woolf save Emily's life? I don't know. I know she wrote a song about her, and about the experience of recognition of herself in some deep and affirming way. I also know that the Indigo Girls served, in a way, as my Virginia Woolf. Their music spoke to me, at first, on a level I didn't quite fully understand. Why did I listen to this next song, for instance, over and over, at a time when I was, in theory, happily married to a kind and generous man?

dark and dangerous like a secret 
that gets whispered in a hush (don't tell a soul) 
when i wake the things i dreamt about you last night make me blush (don't tell a soul) 
when you kiss me like a lover then you sting me like a viper 
i go follow to the river play your memory like the piper 
and i feel it like a sickness how this love is killing me 
but i'd walk into the fingers of your fire willingly 
and dance the edge of sanity i've never been this close 
in love with your ghost...

I think the answer is that I recognized something of myself in these words and melodies that I only half dared to contemplate. Of course, my unwillingness to contemplate the truth-- the fact that I was a lesbian married to a man-- did not alter the truth in any way. The Indigo Girls spoke to me on a kind of telephone line, if not through time, then, through circumstance. They said, "This is our truth." (They said it pretty clearly even before they said it  officially.) Years later, after a season of pain, I was finally able to embrace that truth for myself. (I fell in love.)

This is my good news, on which I stand. I too am one of those untimely born, to whom Jesus has "appeared" (though in my case it involved an Amy Grant song heard in my Volvo on Route 128 outside of Boston, rather than a flash of light and temporary blindness on the road to Damascus). I am also one who knows herself to be "alright"-- a proud and grateful member of that little LGBTQI alphabet cluster,  who knows that by grace she is loved by the God who ensured that she was born this way.

Seven years ago this week I shared the fullness of my identity with the wonderful congregation I serve, just as, this week, 111 United Methodist pastors and candidates for ordained ministry have shared their truth. It is not an action anyone undertakes lightly while they serve a denomination that could discipline them or, worse, remove or block their ministerial credentials altogether. But these brave souls-- one of whom I am so very proud to call my friend--know that #ItsTime. (We all have a way of knowing that.) The good news on which we stand is this: the love of God is big enough to include and affirm all of us. Blessings, prayers, and love go with my UMC brothers and sisters this week.

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