Updated: Apr 14, 2022
Each day, may we be saying prayers for Ukraine, and, however we can, doing what we can to help. On the Peace and Justice page, I have started a list of organizations to which we can send money to help the Ukrainian people.
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After Brené Brown’s first TED Talk, which was on vulnerability, was first broadcast in January of 2011, she wrote six bestselling books and skyrocketed to fame. In a later Ted Talk in 2012, she recounts meeting with a friend for lunch three days after the recording of the first talk, in which she had said that her research that found that “vulnerability is absolutely essential to wholehearted living.” And she said to her friend something like, “I can’t believe that I did what I did. I put these huge words up on the screen saying “breakdown,” and I actually told this audience of 500 people that I had a breakdown.” She was freaking out about what she had done. Because at that moment, Brené Brown did not like being vulnerable. She thought she was giving a Ted Talk about her research journey. But the Ted Talk was on her journey; it became part of her journey, and it changed her life. And her work has helped countless numbers of other people.
Including me! Rachel Held Evans (my latest hero and more to come on Evans in future blogs) inspired me to blog. Brené Brown’s powerful impact actually got me moving, setting up my website and beginning to write.
This creation is full of blessings. Sometimes they fall on us. Some have fallen on me. I have had a lot of loss in my life and a lot of grief. And I have received so many blessings. I feel like a person who has a lot of wealth and believes that he has to share it. I want to share the blessings that I have received in whatever way that I can. One of those ways is writing.
Most of my best writing was during the years from when I started seminary in 2000 until I retired from local church pastoring in 2013. I long for that writing. I want to be in a situation where I have to study, research, reflect, and write. But I need an audience. So I have decided to blog. Now, that is not an easy decision for me. As a youth, I experienced both church and school as judgmental and intimidating. I am a pastor with the serious drawback of being very media shy. I am so terrified of public exposure and being judged that I don't even do Facebook.
But if I cannot be vulnerable I can never create and share my creation. Without vulnerability there can be no creativity.
We experience vulnerability every day of our lives. without being willing to be emotionally vulnerable at times, we cannot fall in love, be creative, be audacious, take a new job, get married, have a child, let a child go, or grow emotionally. Sometimes in life, we make big leaps into the unknown, sometimes compelled by circumstance but sometimes by decision.
I am also a person who can get anxious. So I fall apart and get back together. And somehow over time, I develop more inner resources and faith grows. That does not mean that I don’t still worry and get crazy. I tell everybody that I am a garden variety neurotic and that I think that we mostly all are. As a pastor, I have always tried to maintain a non-anxious presence, but a member of one of my congregations once said to me, “John we like you because you are like us.” I hope that in my writing I can practice enough vulnerability and transparency that I may encourage each of you my readers, to grow in liberating self-kindness toward your own struggling self.
My plan is to write for a general audience (which may always be very small J). Whatever I write, there will be others who are more intelligent than me, or better read than me, who will know more than I do about the subject that I am writing about, except that they do not have my individual and unique history and experience. This is true for every single one of us. And it is okay. Biff Rose sings the message of the Upanishads, “There is no separation in reality.” I have found the hero, and he/she/they is us.
I am committed to take the leap to vulnerability/creativity. Over the next year my plan is that each blog post will have a portion that is current, just talking to my readers, and another portion that will be from my life journey, from autobiographical writing that I have been doing over the last two years for my own healing and the integration of my life, and to leave a legacy for my partner who has gone on and for myself. The pieces of that autobiographical writing in this blog are meant to keep the blog going as I learn and grow and write, and learn to just talk to you who are reading me. Along with that life story I will write as I grow in my understanding of my journey and how it relates to all our journeys and to what it means to be living in this world. In the last paragraph on my “About” page, and again, at the end of today’s blog, I tell more of what I hope to write. I know that lots of times I will fall short of my goal. That is the messiness and the salvific limitation that it is to be human. This blog about my journey becomes part of that journey. The journey continues.
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I separated from my partner Bry in December 1995, after 30 years of being together, and on December 26th, my mother passed away shortly after I arrived at her bedside in Ohio. Within a week or so after my Mom died, profoundly grieving her loss and the loss of my relationship with Bry, I walked into Seattle's Wallingford United Methodist Church, and, being immediately welcomed as an out gay man, it became the first church that I regularly attended since I entered college 36 years earlier.
Below left: My mom with my California niece and nephew when they were young.
Above : Bry in front of our cottage at the Arsha Vidya ashram in the late 1980’s.
That December day, I walked into Wallingford UMC and after being warmly greeted in the narthex, went into the sanctuary shyly, hesitantly, and sat down about three quarters of the way back at the end of a pew to the right of the center aisle. Two women, whom I later learned were a couple, greeted me with smiles to my right. When the time came for passing of the peace, we all stood up, and the woman next to me gave me a hug. To my astonishment, the other woman climbed up on the pew behind her partner to get to me for a hug! I have never seen anything like that before or since! All these years later, that is what I remember about my first day at Wallingford.
I kept going back. People were very welcoming. Soon I was known and was getting to know people, and I realized that, just about every Sunday, either before or after worship, I would get a hug from at least one straight man!
After several weeks, I was familiar enough that the attention that the greetings mellowed. I knew from past experience that the best way to get comfortable with a new group was to have a role. So is the first thing that you volunteer for at a church? Making the coffee! I don’t even drink coffee but it wasn't too hard to learn how to make it.
Then, I got asked to help with the Reconciling Congregation Committee. Somehow I became to co-chair. This was a very important step in my church involvement.
In the meantime there was a potluck for some reason (it’s a church!), and in a table conversation, I discovered that, in addition to being a very liberal and highly LGBTQ-welcoming congregation, you did not have to believe a particular way theologically in order to be at Wallingford.
Above: This in not Wallingford UMC in December 1995, but a north view in February of 2022. Yet it is a glimpse telling you that the so alive congregation that I walked into in 1995 is still very much alive and faithful. The sign reads IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES WELCOME.
About a year after I came to Wallingford, I got invited to speak to the congregation on Sunday morning (It may have been Reconciling Congregation Sunday). That first time, I did not deliver a sermon, but rather told my story. Much of that first talk at WUMC would help to form the autobiography that I was to write in my application for the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry five years later. But I had no idea that would lie ahead.
Finding WUMC was the experience of finding a faith community where I found myself being held and holding others. It was also my very first experience of progressive Christianity. I don’t know that I had even heard the term progressive Christianity. I began to hear about "the Jesus Seminar* and especially about Marcus Borg. The first of Borg’s books that I read was: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: the Historical Jesus & the Heart of Contemporary Faith. This book really opened me up to progressive Christianity. Borg spoke from the point of view of one who had come to doubt the Christian faith of his childhood, but then found Jesus again in a new way. So many of us could relate to that, or to the desire to meet Jesus in a new and deeper way.
Above: Marcus Borg. Photo is used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 3.0). From “Remembering Bible Scholar Marcus Borg (1942-2015)” by David Crumm, in Read The Spirit online magazine, copyright David Crumm Media, LLC. https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2015/01/Marcus-Borg-speaks-to-a-group.jpg
WUMC embraced me and changed my life and became a home to me. In 2001, the church members laid their hands on me and sent me off as I transferred to the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. In both of the seminaries I told everyone and mentioned in many classes how WUMC had changed my life.
There was a later time, several years later, when, between appointments as a pastor, I was back attending Wallingford UMC and having a very hard time. Not now, but in a later blog post, I will tell that story, and the story of finding grace “on the road to Sedro Woolley” that changed everything again.
But first, in our next blog, “the road to Cleveland,” and how a baffling rune prophesied grace-filled life change ahead.
Here, then, from my “About” page, is more about what I hope to write in the blogs: On my Home page, I said that this website will be about my life and my spiritual journey. In this blog, I plan, while keeping my heart as open as I can, to write about that journey, and in that process, on a variety of subjects including grace, gratitude, vulnerability, self-kindness, loving ourselves in all our craziness, religion and spirituality, social justice issues, caring for our planet, being a gay, multi-faith Christian, my life with Bry, love and heart-ache, what it was like as a child and youth on the farm, my life here in Seattle, and a little creative writing. But, regardless of the subject, I will try to strive for compassion, open-heartedness, and authenticity. This is my welcome to you my readers. John Cahall
Finally, a song: “Oh Lord, You got to help us find a way....” is the refrain in the social justice song Freedom for the Stallion, written by Allen Toussaint and performed in the link below by Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello from the album The River in Reverse. The refrain plays a lot in my head these days as we experience the tragedy in Ukraine, the on-going hardships of the pandemic, the slow pace of nations and corporations to address the climate crisis, wildfires in the west, a stalled congressional agenda, and the assault on voting rights and democracy itself in our country. So whether we say, “May... in the Buddhist tradition, or “Oh Lord...” in the Christian tradition, let us do all that we can to work, support, advocate locally and globally “caring for our neighbor,” and may our lives be lives of prayer. May we always remember to be kind to ourselves as well as others, and with our hearts open, knowing the suffering of our world, doing what we can to relieve suffering, may we experience moments of grace and joy.