I’m giving thanks for the whole queer family today.
We are pastors, soldiers, legislators, moms and dads, single people, educators, coaches, artists, musicians, welders, bureaucrats, athletes, and administrators. We are tired, we are wrinkled, we are smooth and young; we are beautiful. We are young urban radicals, comparatively dull suburbanites, and hardworking outdoorsy folk. We are every race and shade, every shape and size, all religions and none.
We are funny, and sympathetic, and no better dancers than the rest of you, and sadly some are really terrible people, because we are human.
We are the ones people look at twice and the ones people never identify as LGBTQIA+. We are the young cashier at the drive-through, and the brilliant professor in high heels, and the linebacker who hits the hardest, and the butch who looks smoking in a black t-shirt, and the spruce executive with the beautiful neckties, and at least one silver-haired mama wearing pearls and drinking a mocha at your local Starbucks.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made, in the image of God, whose diversity is beyond human imagining, categories, prejudices, and phobias.
I am the older sister. I grew up taking blame for naughty things my brother did, and taking the spankings, too. At least, that’s how I remember it.
“Memoir is not an act of history but an act of memory, which is innately corrupt.” Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
I’m reading Mary Karr’s book, and I’m noting how one-sided all our stories are, and impressed by how generous she tries to be when recalling stories about other people. So I will confess I know there were times the spankings were related to my behavior. I know I was far from perfect; in fact, I spent quite a bit of time in the office of the head of the lower school at St. Agnes in my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade years. A core unrest whipped me around and around; I climbed out a window, and I kicked my teacher, and I pulled a fire alarm, or so they tell me. I think I am innocent of that last one. But who knows?
By adolescence, I had learned how to control myself a little better – or to pretend to, to pretend to be that professional good girl an older sister and first-born ought to be. As my brother got involved in typical teen-age shenanigans, I became pious and careful. I might disappoint my parents (I did), but it wouldn’t be on account of sex or drugs.
“Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing.He called one of the servants and asked what was going on.The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in… (Luke 15:25-28, CEB)
I think in the church we’re very likely to identify ourselves with the older son, to convince ourselves that we’ve always been well-behaved, loyal, hard-working, all the ideals of this American culture. The truth about me is that I have been all those things, but I’ve still managed to leave home, worry my parents, shock everyone who knew me by (1) going to seminary, (2) getting divorced, (3) getting married again, (4) getting divorced, (5) coming out, and (6) getting married again. To my family back home in Virginia, who thought of my brother as the imp and me as the nice girl, I have engaged in a complete role reversal. My brother is the steady one, long-married, established. I am the rogue, the prodigal, the sinner.
When I read this chapter now (Luke 15), I read it differently than at other times in my life. I can only read it as myself. We are all corrupt this way.
I read it as a person whose whole life is viewed differently, as a woman whose choices are well outside the realm of youthful sins, errors or peccadilloes. I read it as a woman whose marriage is considered suspect not because it’s #3 but because my spouse is a wife. I read it as the niece who was not welcome at a funeral, as the sister whose brother would not come to the wedding. I read it as a pastor’s wife subject to never-ending micro-aggressions not only from the people who question our “lifestyle,” but from the people who claim to support us. I read it as a pastor whose employability in a progressive denomination plummeted just for being queer.
When I read these stories now, I am grateful for these stories and Jesus’ assurance that God loves us, and seeks us, and returns us to the fold.
It’s only in some human eyes that I ever left it.
Holy God, sometimes we get lost in the wilderness of judgment, in the dark corners of oppression, in the foreign land of inhospitality. You nose us out, search for us, welcome us home, and in every case, rejoice when we are together again. Thank you for that. Amen.
Jesus always seems to be encouraging us to persist, because persistence will get God’s attention. No parent is going to give a child a scorpion instead of an egg, and if your neighbor is already in bed and won’t give you some extra bread out of hospitality, he might do it out of annoyance to get you to go home, already. Later we’ll get a widow practically stalking an unjust judge. Don’t give up, he says.
And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. (Luke 11:9-10, CEB – I read Luke 11:1-28 today)
I hear you, maybe we didn’t get what we asked for in the form we expected. Etc.
I would simply ask those who embrace that interpretation to consider whether or not they are speaking from some naive or even smug privilege.
In my denomination, we’ve been ordaining women practically forever, but there remain churches who see women as second-class candidates. We were the first Christian denomination to ordain gay and lesbian people, and we’re nominally open and affirming to all LGBTQ+ people now, but the situation on the ground is more complicated. Queer and trans clergy and candidates for ministry are knocking, seeking, asking, and we can get through the hoops right up to the point of receiving a call to a church. Then it’s in the hands of a small segment of a local congregation, a group of volunteers, certainly taking their responsibilities seriously and perhaps worried about getting it wrong and being blamed if the church suffers due to the choice they make.
And as we wait for emails or phone calls, as we are turned down by committees, as months become years, our knuckles bleed, our hearts hurt, our spirits flag.
I haven’t searched for a settled call since I came out, so I am speaking for others here, but it’s honest to say that I’ve considered the possibility of searching and decided I don’t want to risk myself. I’ve pieced together other work, much of it speculative. I don’t earn a full-time salary even by combining the other work, and I rely on my spouse’s employer for benefits such as health care and even life insurance. I wonder if I could ever earn those things again in the work for which I was trained.
Other doors have opened, of course. Other requests were granted. The love I sought for all my life was found. I write this not because I am disappointed in my life but because I wonder about my church, and other varieties of church, that make statements in forums that have limited bearing on actual employment for people like me and think that’s enough.
I hope what we need is merely time, that this will change, but the truth is that people who are genuinely called by God are languishing, wondering if they got the message wrong, when maybe they were just more open to the Spirit than the rest of church world. My heart hurts for them.
Holy One. We are still knocking. Please, open the door.