Daily Devotions to White House Visits to Climate Change & Ever Evolving Social Justice
Meet Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, a queer national treasure
I first saw Nancy Wilson sitting next to Paula, her wife/partner/significant other (she addresses Paula’s title below) in the front row of a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Florida laughing her ass off while I performed Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. We then met up a few years later at the European Forum of Gay and Lesbian Christians. That time I got to see Nancy “perform” as she gave a keynote address. Hearing her speak with such authority, compassion, and cutting edge insights about gender and the queer movement, I began to understand why she has been such a cherished leader both in the MCC and in the wider queer world. I have been impressed and, yes, blessed by the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, and I have just three questions for Nancy. She doesn’t waste a word and packs her answers with insight, wisdom, and humor. She is also freakishly photogenic!
If you do not know this amazing person, here is a bio from the MCC site:
Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson
Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson has been Moderator of MCC since 2005. She began her ministry with MCC at the age of 22 as Associate Past or at MCC Boston in 1972.
Rev. Wilson is an Associate Minister with The Fellowship, and in 2011 was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Advisory Council of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Rev. Wilson obtained her B.A. from Allegheny College, her M.Div. from St. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, and her D.Min. from Episcopal Divinity School.
Question One: In 1972, when you were 22 years old, you began your ministry with the Metropolitan Community Church, and you have been with the MCC ever since. What are some ways in which you are similar to that 22 year old Rev. Nancy Wilson, and in what ways are you radically different today?
I believed then, at 22, that young people could change the world, with our passion for change, justice, with our undiminished hope. I was someone who had already been stirred by the civil rights movements and the anti-war movement, which had a huge impact on my consciousness. I had a pastor’s heart then, and do now, it is one of the most powerful lenses I have on the world. I loved the prophets and identified as a follower of Jesus. That has not changed.
At 22, I was not as sophisticated about racial or sexual and gender politics. Since then, I have been through our holocaust, AIDS, and the suffering and redemptive relationships, dealing with life and death on a daily basis when I pastored MCC in Los Angeles has changed me. I also became a cross-cultural learner, who pastored a bilingual congregation, and have had the privilege to travel the world, meeting with activist, sharing the message of MCC’s transgressively inclusive gospel.
I am a little more skeptical about politics, and feel like my eyes have been opened about the destructive power to corrupt – money and politics. I know that activism cannot be episodic, it must be sustained, fearless and committed, even when hope seems dim.
I have become a birdwatcher! And that view of nature has also radicalized me even more about the planet, our health and survival.
I have to say that marriage equality seemed like an impossible dream to me at 22 – then, I thought of marriage as only an oppressive, patriarchal institution! Maybe as women have changed heterosexual marriage in some cultures, and as same sex marriage has gained acceptance, my view has shifted. Paula, my wife of 37 years, likes me to call her “wife,” though that seems like a really alien to me – she says it is clear and unequivocal, and she is right. I am adjusting.
Hopefully, I am still as eager to learn, and change, and be challenged as I was . . .
At 22, I had no idea I would be a frequent guest of the White House, and also march for equality in Jamaica, and speak at an LGBT Center in China about religion and homosexuality! The world is a surprising place, thank God!!
Question Two: Great leaders and influential people of faith are often highly disciplined people with important and sometimes mundane daily routines that keep them grounded, informed, and sharp. What are some regular disciplines that you have developed through the years that sustain you and have become essential in your life, relationships, and work?
It seems I am a person of habits, and many are good (not all. . .). I am a morning person, and I read the New York Times, and pray my way through it. That can take a while. . .Then I journal some. I try to be accountable in the journaling, for commitments to myself, in particular, and reflect on the day before. The journal is full of prayers, intercessory prayers.
I then read from 2 or 3 daily devotional books. I am a fan of God Calling, a very dated devotional, but, it is uncanny in it’s prescience. Sentimentally, I still include it. I have used the Celtic Daily prayer book (Richard Foster), a rich compendium. I am currently using Your True Home by Thich Nhat Hanh. He is amazing – I did a retreat with him more than a decade ago with a close friend. That friend and I text daily about the reading – we rarely both miss a day – and that is wonderful. You have to have soul friends who are drawn to the same teachers and sources.
I try to read 4 scripture texts, daily, but, sometimes only get to one. If I have only time or patience for one, I read a Psalm. I read a Hebrew scripture passage, a gospel passage and an epistle passage, I just go through it all, and start again from the beginning of each of these. I have done this since New Year’s Day in 1981.
And, of course, since I preach, there is study and reflection time for that as well. It is always challenging to find new sources, new commentaries, new perspectives. I preach from the lectionary, since it forces me to preach from scriptures I may not be as fond of. . .
Besides morning, I love to walk, and bird watch. Mostly, during that time, I try to just be grateful, open and curious.
Rev. Dr. Mona West introduced me to some online sources – like gratefulness.org which I love. I love the virtual labyrinth, and lighting virtual candles. I use those occasionally.
When I am in my car, I often listen to news. But, in the last year, I have fasted some from that. Then, I listen to classical music instead, or, I try to just be present and attentive and quiet.
Al anon was a life-saver for me years ago. I still think of the 12 step caution, “HALT: don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.” They have great tools, like the “Detachment” pamphlet, and prayers like “Just for Today.” Those are incredible, in very tough times.
When I am discouraged, in a deep way, I create gratitude lists, and I find that simple exercise lifts my spirit.
Also, change your routine, from time to time. Spent more time outdoors. For me, being near water is healing.
If I get too far from these helps, I make poorer choices, am less kind, less healthy.
Traveling makes this difficult at times. I have had to find creative way to bring my routine on the road, and to forgive myself when it gets interrupted, and always to get back on my path.
When I travel, I often find friends to walk with, that is enormously helpful.
I also write poetry, that is spiritual in nature. I don’t care much about publishing them, they are really like my children. I polish them and nurture them, and improve them from time to time. They are rarely finished. A few are perfect!
I also play the piano, not enough. . . It is a percussion instrument, so it is physically taxing, which makes it therapeutic for me. I love playing old hymns. . .
Question Three: Lately you have expressed a concern about global warming. As a queer person of faith, what are your concerns and where do you look for hope?
Well, lately indeed! This is a conversion process, and I got invited to go deeper, and accepted the invitation – and it has really rocked me. So many of us think that someone, somewhere, smart scientists and powerful people will figure this out and outsmart the forces of climate destruction. But, I fear it is not true!
My hope is in a movement – where diverse groups come together and this issue moves quickly to the top of our agenda, not as issue #7 or 9 that we care most about. This is going to take a political and spiritual movement, incredible will. People are making a lot of money off of fossil fuels, and we are addicted, and the resistance to radical change is enormous. I have hope that that will change.
In the eradicating human traffic movement, we say that trafficking is a high profit, low risk business, and we have to reverse that. The same is true of fossil fuel production. A carbon tax, and the kind of campaign that targeted smoking, times 10, is needed. At present, climate change is the most divisive issue in the US, politically, more than guns – why? Because fossil fuels are making some people huge amounts of money. Period. This must change.
Thank you, Nancy, for taking the time to visit with us. I am growing more and more excited about working together with you on Climate Change, well, shoot, really anything. We can just gather around the piano and belt out our favorite hymns. Your magnetic personality and your depth are not only attractive, they are needed in the world today.
(photo credit “Towards a free and equal world” Bill Owen)