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.
Hush. 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: