Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Jeremiah's Curse

I have been a PC(USA) minister for a little over 15 years. Not as long as many, longer than some. The same issue has hounded me for the entire length of my ministry. Often I wish I didn't care. Why should I? It doesn't affect me personally.

I am preaching on Jeremiah on Sunday as we make our way through the Bible in 2008. It is our big 225th anniversary party, you know. Jeremiah haunts me.

The summer I left for seminary in 1989, lovely spouse and I worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Billings, Montana. I just went to church there that one Sunday that summer. The minister who preached, Rev. Bell, was the same guy who married us six years before. He was also the guy I followed when I became pastor there in 2001. Pretty weird. I got my butt kicked good and royal in Billings. But I found my voice there, too.

It gets weirder, at least for me. I remember that sermon--the sermon that Rev. Jim Bell preached that summer in 1989. I remember part of it--the important part. The church had the fire that year so the service was in the gym. I sat on the left side near the front with Lovely Spouse. He preached on Jeremiah. This was the text:

"...there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot." (20:9b)

I didn't know what it was about. But I can still see Rev. Jim Bell's face looking right at me when he preached on that text. He knew I was there that Sunday and that I was going to seminary. I thought at the time that it was an encouraging sermon. You know, be on fire for God or whatever.

I know better now. The SOB looked right at me when he recited that verse. He gave me Jeremiah's curse. I will never forgive him. You know Jeremiah's curse, right? Jeremiah, that poor bastard, couldn't shut up. (Yeah, I called Jeremiah a poor bastard, so fecking sue me). I can't shut up either.

So we get to seminary (hoity toity Princeton, with its wealth and pleasantries and its doctors of philosophy and oh, my aren't we just a little bit special). I don't even get a chance to enjoy this ivy league snobbishness because on day 1, the day of orientation, we little dreamy-eyed hopefuls are herded into the cafeteria, I guess it was, to be oriented.

So all the little prissies and preppies talk about their clubs and intellectual soirees. Oh, that sounds interesting. Wouldn't that look good on the resume? Chit chat, chit chat, very nice thank you. Then this guy stands up and says he is in a club--Presbyterians for gay something or other.

What'd he say? I later find out it is Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns.

No more chit chat. No one whispers that that would look nice on the resume. Just a silence. The guy sitting next to me says under his breath he doesn't think that group is appropriate. We are all about being appropriate, aren't we? Go ahead and stab someone in the back as long as you are not vulgar about it. Wouldn't want to be juvenile. After all we are Presbyterians at Princeton.

This vulgar little man with his gay club just put a damper on our party. It's not appropriate. Makes one squirm in one's seat. We were having such a good time, too.

I shouldn't have looked at him. But I remember his face as clear as I remember Jim Bell's face when he zapped me with Jeremiah's curse.
I swear I remember his eyes. They were sad but alert. I think he was looking around, maybe he would find a friendly face. A face that wasn't looking down or staring off, or even glaring back with anger.

I met his eyes. It wasn't because I was friendly, I was just too stupid to know what it was all about. I didn't really know what gay was. I had never knowingly met a gay person. (This was almost 20 years ago, before Ellen). I watched him as he said when his group met and who was welcome--everyone.

When he finished, I thought Hmm. Well. That's interesting. I watched him leave. I was happy that he stood up and said what he did and that he existed. Otherwise I wouldn' t have known.

I thought it was appropriate for him to be alive and to be on the seminary campus and to have a club (whatever it was that a gay club did), and to tell the world that he had one.

I have been thus cursed ever since. Cursed with a fire shut up in my bones that says this person belongs. And I cannot shut up. And I am getting worse.

I got Rev. Jim Bell back, though. I officiated at a big gay wedding (oops, sorry, blessing, wouldn't want to get taken to church court) in that same church where he gave me Jeremiah's curse. I probably lost my position over that, but I wouldn't do anything differently if I had to do it again. Why? Because I can't help it. I can't hold it in.

I, for the life of me, cannot understand how in 2008 we don't get this. If you don't get it by now you are just mean. Haven't you people ever watched Will and Grace? If you don't get it now, there is nothing I will ever be able to say.

For those of you who do get it, I hereby curse you.

May the word of the Lord become for you a reproach and a derision all day long. If you say, I will not mention him or speak anymore in his name, then within you there will be something like a burning fire shut up in your bones, and you will be weary with holding it in and you will not be able to do so. (Jer. 20:8b-9)

Thus you have been cursed. So you might as well watch this:


  1. John,
    Well said. Just remember, your "curse" is a gift to those whom you have helped impact their life in a positive way. I personally thank you.

  2. Thanks, Scott. I am glad you read my post correctly. It is not really a "curse" of course. I have been blessed, immeasurably!

  3. We've come such a long way, yet we haven't. People are no longer sent to jail for being gay, as was the case for Oscar Wilde and many others. However, we still have far too many people who think it is acceptable to show extreme violence against someone simply for being gay.

    I have a suggestion for all those who are tired of hearing about gay rights: shut the hell up, sit the hell down, and let people live their lives. I guarentee you won't hear about it much after that.

  4. John, I want to tell you how much I appreciated this post. I know how it feels, this curse of Jeremiah, this knowing that you should shut up, that it's smart to shut up, but that you just can't shut up, because someone needs your voice.

    There are lots of people who think you (and I) don't belong in the church, and they do what they can to kick us out, to silence us, to claim for themselves, and ONLY themselves, the voice of God. Good thing that they are not in charge of calling disciples and preserving saints. That is God's work.

    I find it interesting that while the right wing of the church threatens to leave, the rest of the church struggles to remain together. I wonder which behavior is closer to WWJD.

    Jeremiah's Curse is God's blessing.
    "Blessed are you when people lie about you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of terrible things about you in Christ's name."

    I will pray for you, Jim, and also for those who persecute you. Sunday, I will ask that my church pray for you. You might feel cursed, Jim, but don't feel alone.

  5. John Mc-- oh don't thank me. But thank you.

    Snad--thanks for the Oscar Wilde reference. He was too good for us.

    Jodie--it is. Is that so hard to get?

    Fly--how Buddhist of you!

    Mr. Tim--Welcome. I don't think I have heard from you before. What a nice comment. Thanks for the prayers.

    I think you meant to say that you will pray for John, but you said Jim at the end. I am not picking. I mention it because of the irony.

    It is a good thing you made that slip. You see, Jim is a minister colleague who I have been spatting with these past few days on this blog and on his. We are on the opposite end of a lot of issues. But I think we are a lot alike. He is just on the wrong side : )

    I bet he feels like I do sometimes. So, please pray for Jim, too, in the same way you would pray for me.


  6. As I mentioned in a comment on another post, I spent this past weekend in Hyde Park, New York, at the Home of Franklin D Roosevelt Nat'l Historic Site and the FDR Presidential Library, saving the Eleanor Roosevelt NHS for last (we even got to speak with an elderly African-American woman who was a friend of ER).

    Now Eleanor, THAT was a lady with Jeremiah's Curse. John, you find yourself in great company.

  7. First, I did mean to type "John" not "Jim". I'm no good at spelling. When my family prays at night, we end of with a (long) list of "God bless"es, and finally "and God bless everyone else. Amen." So, you're both included. :)

    Next, I have been reading you for some time. My pastor brought your blog to my attention. I have commented here before, but only a couple of times, and it's been a while.

    Since it's been so long, and I've been mooching off your eloquence, let me add a story:

    A while back, I saw a news story about some gay men who'd been married in Massachusetts. (That dates it, doesn't it?) Anyway, I was really uncomfortable watching them. It wasn't like they were doing anything lewd; they were just sitting there, holding hands. My skin crawled.

    Worse yet, the feeling felt familiar, and I couldn't place it. When had I felt like that before?

    I remembered: it was when I was a kid watching The Jeffersons. (and that dates me) A white man and a black woman were kissing each other. Not passionately, just a little peck. I felt just the same.

    That uncomfortable feeling was not because there was something wrong with the situation: it's because something was wrong with me.

    The thing is, I cannot demonize those who act defensively about this, because that skin crawling is not a pleasant emotion. I can fully understand wanting to avoid it.

    Still, as uncomfortable as I feel, it is not nearly as bad as on the other side. I'm not going to get my face beat because I'm watching a white man kiss a black woman or two men kiss, but the kissing folks very well might, and somebody might just do it in the name of Jesus.

    I can be a little uncomfortable to save someone's life.

  8. Fly, Yes, Eleanor was another one too good for us!

    Mr. Tim: Sorry I didn't remember you from before. I am glad you are here. I really appreciate that honesty.

    "I can be a little uncomfortable to save someone's life."

    That's the Gospel all right.