Yesterday I wrote about my response to the passage of the Traditional Plan in the United Methodist Church, a plan that forbids the ordination of and the performance of marriage ceremonies for LGBTQ people.
This morning I kept thinking about how my feelings are eerily similar to the feelings Maggie experiences in Saint Maggie. I don’t remember when I wrote the scenes posted below, but Saint Maggie was published in 2011. So they are at least 8 years old. Is it a case of life reflecting art, rather than art reflecting life? I have no idea. All I know is it feels really weird.
Maggie’s actual situation not the same as mine. She witnesses her church’s angry, vindictive response to their pastor, who has committed a crime. When her daughter, Frankie, reminds her of the power of forgiveness, Maggie forgives the pastor for the damage he has done to her. She doesn’t forget what he has done, mind you, rather she lets go of her own anger and bewilderment and begins to visit him in prison.
But, as if Maggie hasn’t been hurt enough, some members of her church criticize and ostracize her for reconciling with the pastor.
In the first scene, feeling hurt and unable to experience God’s presence, Maggie makes a painful decision. However, God peeks through in the second scene.
My prayer is this: May God peek through for all those who have been hurt by the denomination known as the United Methodist Church. May they know that there is hope.
This is my final word on the subject. I promise. I will return to regular blogging on Friday.
I am posting this blog a day early. I had planned to write about the Civil War as character in my novellas and short stories, but I need to address an issue that has caused me a great deal of anxiety and heartbreak, and what I am going to do about it. Please bear with me.
I am referring to the special General Conference held by the United Methodist Church, optimistically called “A Way Forward.” For those of you unfamiliar United Methodism, the conference was called so the church could decide – once and for all, apparently – whether it would accept LGBTQ people as ordained clergy and whether or not clergy could marry same-sex couples. This debate has been raging for some 40 years, disrupting all the other things representatives from United Methodist Annual Conferences could discuss and decide at the General Conferences held every 4 years.
There were several plans offered, but two primary ones. The One Church Plan would have allowed individual churches to decide whether they would accept an LGBTQ clergyperson and permit same sex marriages. The Traditional Plan would have kept the injunctions against these things and would have tightened up the restrictions and punitive measures taken should clergy break the law.
This dispute has caused me a great deal of anxiety. Not because I am LGBTQ, but because my sister is part of that group of people. So are many of her friends, which by proxy are my friends too. I love her. I love her/my friends. And as far as I can see not one of them chose to be who they are because… well, it’s who they are. The only choice they made was to “come out.” Quite obviously, I don’t buy the “it’s a decision” argument nor do I think people can “pray away the gay.”
This afternoon (Tuesday, Feb. 26), I was trying to feel better by listening to Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s audio book, Pastrix. She is a recovering alcoholic, heavily tattooed, hysterically funny, and can curse like a trucker. She makes me laugh while she’s slapping me upside the head with insight. Today I heard her say something that stuck in my head and my heart.
First, I belong to God. I am God’s beloved child. No matter what any United Methodist General Conference decides, I am God’s. The church, like all the other human-created organizations out there, is a human-made and run institution (no matter what anyone tries to tell you). As such, it can be beautiful, loving, exciting, and uplifting, while simultaneously being mean-spirited, blind, pig-headed, and just plain nasty. It’s a fact. It’s real. Because people, not God, run churches and denominations – no matter what they tell you. But the people in the church are God’s.
And I am God’s, too, no matter how dumb, hurtful, mean-spirited, or pigheaded I am. And when I wander off and get into trouble, God waits for me to remember Whose I am and return. In fact, sometimes God even goes so far to come after me, tap me on the shoulder, and say, “Hey! Remember me? Let’s go hang out.”
So as things are likely to get even crazier in the UMC, I will slap my hand on my head and, like Martin Luther, shout, “I AM BAPTIZED” to remind myself to Whom I belong. And this crazy idea gives me strength and hope. Oh, yeah, It probably will freak out anyone standing near me, but at least I’ll get grounded again.
I had a realization of my own today, too, and it’s a basic tenet of my faith. Jesus died on the cross but was resurrected three days later. In short, after death there is resurrection. This may be the end of an old life, but also it is the beginning of a new one.
That said, here is where I stand on the matter of the Traditional Plan while the dust settles and while Annual Conferences and local congregations decide what to do next.
1. I am no longer a “United Methodist.” But I am a “Methodist.” That is, I no longer feel allegiance toward the human organization called the United Methodist Church. However, I am a Methodist because I continue to be someone who sees scripture, theology, mission, and life through the lens of John Wesley, the 18th century Anglican priest who unintentionally started the Methodist Church. (Gee, all he really wanted was to pump a little life into the Church of England. Funny thing about that.)
2. I am free in Christ. The large, worldwide religious conglomerate called the United Methodist Church can do what it wants; but it cannot and will not have my soul. That belongs to God. And so I kick its dust from my feet. While I bear the denomination no ill will, I’m moving on spiritually and emotionally.
3. I love the local congregation where I serve as Assistant Minister, Director of Christian Education, and Communications Director. I have spent ten and a half years with this family. Hey, they must be something special because I’ve never spent ten and a half years anywhere – except, of course, with those I love, which now includes the people of First UMC. And that is good, and I want to be with them until God calls me elsewhere.
4. I am going “full Maggie” now. My only vow is to live by Christ’s Law of Love. It’s short, sweet, and to the point: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 37-40, New Revised Standard Version) Like my character, Maggie Blaine Smith, I will strive to love God and love others. Hang all the other baggage.
5. Finally, I am sooo glad I never got ordained. Maybe my dislike of “jumping through hoops” was more of a God-thing than I ever imagined. I am free to respond to this in a way that my ordained friends are not.
Thanks for putting up with me, friends. I know some of you don’t give two dead flies about religion, much less United Methodism. However, this matters to me, and I needed to say something publicly.
Look for the post on the last part of “the Civil War as a Character” Friday.
Just because the war has left your neighborhood, or you have left it, does not mean that it no longer has an impact. If Walk by Faith portrays the Civil War as a ravaging beast, then A Time to Heal explores the damage the beast has left behind.
None of the characters has escaped the war’s touch. In Gettysburg Maggie (who is pregnant), Emily, Frankie, and Lydia had dealt with a flood of wounded soldiers from both sides, occupation by a squad of Confederate soldiers, privation, fear, and (in Maggie and Emily’s case) physical attacks.
Nate, Grandpa, the children, and Matilda and Chloe spent the battle in a safer place about seven miles away with Eli’s sister Sarah and her husband Andrew Millhouse. Although not in direct contact with the war, they suffered anxiety over the fate of their loved ones in Gettysburg. Part of the healing process for Matilda, Chloe, and Grandpa comes when they return to Gettysburg to help Frankie and Lydia with the hospital in the old Smith house. They are joined by Chester Carson, who had covered the war as a correspondent with Eli.
In the field, Patrick McCoy and Edgar Lape faced battle head on with the New Jersey 15 Volunteer Regiment, part of the 6th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Maggie’s husband Eli and Chester Carson follow the 6th Corps in their news wagon and had their own experiences with battles and field hospitals.
After the battle, Eli and Nate return to Gettysburg and whisk their wives away from that the town’s wreckage. Both women have been traumatized and their husbands feel that going to a quiet, clean place will help them heal. Fortunately, they find a house to rent near Middletown (current day Biglerville) and sojourn there.
While A Time to Heal is about healing from trauma, it also goes into detail about the disruption and destruction in Gettysburg after the armies leave. Another storyline involves Frankie’s sympathy for a wounded Confederate soldier named Caleb. Her connection to him as a human being helps Caleb running away before he can be sent to a prisoner of war camp, an act that is illegal. His escape leads to complications, including arrest, and arraignment and trial before the District Provost Marshal, although in the confusion the wrong people are arrested and detained.
As time passes, the raw wounds begin to heal. The war's character in Seeing the Elephant changes.
By the time Maggie and family return to Blaineton, mention of the war appears in Eli’s news articles and his conversation with Maggie. But it present in other ways, notably as PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the 1860s, some soldiers and even their loved ones presented doctors with a baffling series of symptoms. The disease would not be identified fully and named until the late 20th century, but the doctors of the nineteenth century couldn’t help but notice something was not quite right. After an interview with a former soldier who has committed a crime in the midst of a panic attack, Eli increasingly becomes concerned about his own set of symptoms: terrifying and disturbing nightmares and eventually decides to seek treatment.
Seeing the Elephant also hints at the coming age of industry and industrialists in the person of Josiah Norton, who owns a nearby woolen mill and a uniform factory. Josiah increasingly perceives that the new Hospital for the Insane has income-generating potential. And so greed of an emerging industrialist becomes dovetails with the treatment of people suffering from mental and emotional illnesses.
The war will not disappear completely, at least in the Saint Maggie series. I plan take the story into 1865 up to and possibly past Lincoln's assassination; and at this point do not plan to take the series any further.
However, the long-form novels are not the only place where the Civil War appears as a character. It is found in the novellas and the Christmas short stories, as well, despite the fact that one of them is set in the 1850s. So, I'll conclude this series of blogs with a discussion about the war's presence n them.
Until Wednesday… be well!
How the United States were divided at the time of the Civil War.
Image from http://www.wtv-zone.com/civilwar/map.html
The American Civil War functions as another character in the Saint Maggie series. Or, perhaps more correctly, as a nightmare that snaps at the characters’ heels or is lurking darkly in the background.
Maggie and the others live in New Jersey, a Northern state and part of the United States of America. The vast majority of the battles during the Civil War took place in the Confederate States of America (see map above). The exceptions to this were Union states along the border between the two nations: Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. Pennsylvania, which was not on a border state, was close enough to Maryland to be a conduit to the northern states for CSA forces. And that was part of the rationale for the Battle of Gettysburg. The CSA army was trying to drive a wedge into the Union to separate its capital of Washington, D.C. from the rest of the North.
Maggie and her family live in New Jersey, a state to Pennsylvania’s east. Those who know the history of the Civil War know that New Jersey never suffered an attack or a battle during that era, although its people got very nervous when they learned about the Battle of Gettysburg.
Since my characters live in the midst of the Civil War era, 1860-1865, they have no idea what will happen next. It is part of the environment in the series’ books as well as in the novellas and short stories of the Maggiverse. (Hey, if fantasy and science fiction authors can adapt the term “universe” to describe their stories’ environment, then I can apply the term to historical fiction.)
Saint Maggie is set primarily during the pre-war period of 1860 – early 1861. Although the story’s plot line deals with another issue, the threat of war is always lurking in the background. The characters go about their daily lives, but try as they might, the real possibility that their nation might be divided, and that war might be declared is always there. This plays out both in Maggie’s journal entries, conversations among the characters, and articles in The Gazette, Eli’s penny-weekly newspaper. An early example is Maggie’s note in her journal entry of 13 April 1860:
“Talk of secession and war is steadily increasing. The men throw the idea about with a strange and serious eagerness that is most unsettling. It is as if they cannot wait to get a rifle in their hands and commence killing one another.” (Saint Maggie, p. 8.)
In the last chapter of the book, war is declared, and its undeniable threat now sits side by side with a trial involving an unimaginable act. That parallel was not a conscious creation of mine. It actually emerged as I tried to fit Maggie’s life into the larger context of her world.
Time passes and the war becomes an increasing threat to Maggie and her family. In Walk by Faith, Eli and Carson are away and covering the war by following the New Jersey 15th Volunteer Regiment. Edgar Lape (Lydia’s husband) and Patrick McCoy (Frankie’s beau) have enlisted and are part of the NJ 15th. That leaves Maggie, Lydia, Frankie, Emily, Grandpa O’Reilly, Nate, and newcomers Matilda and Chloe Strong in the boarding house. Rumors about the boarding house’s involvement in the Underground Railroad have always swirled through Blaineton. But by 1863, these tensions come to a head when arsonists burn both the rooming house and Eli’s print shop. Although Maggie’s brother takes the family in, the troublemakers follow them and continue their threat.
Eli has returned to New Jersey, and desperate to keep everyone safe, he makes the decision to move them to his old family home in Gettysburg. Of course, he has no way of knowing that the war will find his loved ones there and put them smack dab in the middle of a major battle. As for Eli, he returns to his work as a war correspondent and sees plenty of action, too – including a retreat in Virginia in which he nearly is blown up.
Throughout Walk by Faith, the war now becomes a destructive force, a beast that consumes people, property, and the landscape. This is woven into the story, as well as into Maggie’s journal entries and Eli’s reports, in which he increasingly focuses on the people involved in the battles rather than on the battles themselves. No one escapes the touch of the war in this book. And these experiences leave the family with emotional scars that haunt them throughout the succeeding novels.
In the excerpt below, Eli struggles with a lack of faith brought on by his experiences in the war.
On Monday, I’ll look at the war’s presence in A Time to Heal and Seeing the Elephant.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder