Today was one of those days where I felt deeply privileged to have someone feel safe enough with me that they could be their authentic self with me. Seen. Heard. Welcomed.
Connected to that was the powerful experience of a friend giving the message in church today, speaking truth. She shared a lot about her life, about her family, and, because the text today was the story of Jesus telling a man “with many possessions,” that in order to inherit eternal life he had to sell what he owned and give the money to the poor, she talked about MONEY — perhaps the most intimate, scariest thing of all to discuss in church. At the end of her homily, she shared her recent decision to provide funding for a young transgender man to have top surgery. She knew what it had meant for her son, and decided she needed and wanted to offer that to this young man. Even if it meant going into debt.
I sat in church, and listened, and was so grateful to hear her be so honest and authentic with us. And I was a little anxious, to be honest. I worried. What will people think? She’s talking openly about what it means to be transgender, IN CHURCH. Will people be upset with her? With Pastor Julia? Will people leave? I’m so happy to hear her say this OUT LOUD, but I also don’t want anyone to hurt or lash out at her.
Well, I can’t control how every person in the congregation heard that homily. I do know that for some, it was a breath of fresh air. It was gospel. It created a space where perhaps we could be a little more honest about who we are, what we fear, what we hope. It opened up a space where those who weren’t included before, were included now.
Nin also said “You cannot save people, you can only love them.”
Today, which is also national Coming Out Day, got me thinking of the people who have held space for me to be authentic. In particular, I thought of my years in seminary, where I wrestled with my call to become an ordained Lutheran pastor in the ELCA, at the same time that I wrestled with what it meant that I was so darn attracted to women. In seminary, the majority of my professors were white men. LGBTQ people in the church were mainly “a problem” to be dealt with. I felt huge dissonance as I sat through many of my seminary classes. And yet, in systematic theology, the teaching assistant, Mary Lowe, regularly used examples of LGBTQ people, in a very matter of fact way that suddenly brought me into the discourse. Suddenly I had a place in that classroom, and was no longer such a stranger.
In seminary I occasionally attended services at Pacific School of Religion, and at Metropolitan Community Church, San Francisco, and again, rather than always being “the problem” in my church, I became a mere beloved child of God. With the possibility of gifts to share with the world. Seen. Heard. Welcomed.
Our words matter.
It matters to tell the stories, and hold space so others can share their own stories. To tell the stories in a way that acknowledges that some of us are queer. Some are differently abled. Some of us have fought hard battles with addictions of all sorts. Some of us have few resources and some lots. Some of us live with medical challenges, sometimes invisible to the public eye. Some of us are single. Childless. Lonely. Struggle with depression or other mental illnesses. Come from different ethnic backgrounds. Have lots of privilege, or very little. Our stories matter. Your stories matter. And for those of us with lots of opportunity to tell (and have told to us) our own stories, maybe it’s time to hold space for new stories, the ones that haven’t been told yet.
Seen. Heard. Welcomed. Grateful.