This article first appeared in PQ Monthly, Portland, in August, 2016.
The other day I had a conversation about feelings, specifically my anger and frustration with all of the hate and violence of the world. I was given an exercise to try. I chose three stones from a bowl. One blue. One red. One green. They weren’t really stones, but glass marbles, but because of the heaviness of what they represented, they seemed as stones to me. I held them in the palm of my hand as we spoke, the colors glowing with the ambient light against my palm, the glass cool and hard.
I set the glossy stones on the table and selected the blue one. Pale and clear, it represented tears. Tears of anger and sorrow. Another death from hatred of skin color. Another act of violence against the trans community. Another vile and bullying rant from politicians and their supporters on social media. I held my grief and rage in my hand and then set it down. I cannot hold it all the time.
I selected the red stone and held it up to the light. Sun from the window pierced the dark marble. It looked like a ruby, or heart of fire. This was my joy. I remembered all of the generosity in our community. I celebrated the love expressed in vows as friends married. I delighted in the memory of a new and scary trick in trapeze class and being liberated by the height and flight, and the encouraging instruction from my teachers. I placed the red stone next to the blue stone. Both of these feelings are true and exist side by side.
Finally I picked up the green stone. The green was so light, the stone was almost clear. I held it up to the window and could see out to the horizon, though the perspective was upside down. The earth was sky, and sky was the ground. This stone was dreaming and hope.
Like Mary in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), I long for a reversal of the way things are now. Instead of hate, let there be love. Instead of fear and hunger, let there be joy and abundance. Let the world be a place in which every person is celebrated as a beloved, unique creation, and no one is turned away or left out.
Now I hold the green stone in my palm and dream. I see my hand through the translucent marble. How can our own hands bring about this world of peace and grace?
I am thrilled that the Lutheran Church in Oregon (ELCA) has hired me to be an advocate for the LGBTQIA community. With one part of this role, I am continuing to work with churches to help them learn how to have the conversation about welcome, inclusion, and celebration of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Along with many other leaders, we are creating safe places of community, and helping congregations live out their commitment to welcome.
Even more exciting, I think, is the larger piece of this new role. Reaching out into the LGBTQIA community, we are listening to the stories of both pain and joy of people’s experiences with the church. All sorts of faith communities have done real harm to our community. I am grateful that we want to acknowledge this harsh truth and work for healing. Sadly, the church has helped create a society where parents kick out their children, or struggle to love them. We hear the stories of attempted suicide, homelessness, and addiction as a means to escape the racism, homophobia, and transphobia that the church helps perpetuate. Some church traditions have been silent in the face of this. Others have preached hate outright. There is very good reason for our communities to distrust the church.
We want to acknowledge this, and as part of the church’s response, we are exploring the creation of an alternative worshiping community. What does this mean? We are learning. There are certainly already many safe places for LGBTQ people to gather in a faith community. You can find many of these for all sorts of faith communities at this link: http://www.welcomingresources.org/usa.htm
Recognizing the vast variety of backgrounds and experiences people have with the church, we dare to hope that we can also make a difference, alongside these other faith communities. We are in the dreaming phase of creating a new safe space for LGBTQIA people and allies to share our stories, our joys and struggles, explore our own sense of faith and spirituality, and support one another as we build relationships.
I want to thank the Lutheran Church in Oregon (ELCA) for putting their money where their faith is and investing in creating this new community. I am endlessly grateful for the leadership and compassion of Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke and Pastor Michael Keys who wrote the grant for this project, and supervise me in this journey.
I pick up the three stones again and hold them all in my hand. They make little clicking sounds as they bump into each other in my palm. Our lives are complex, and contain many emotions and experiences. Often we have conflicting feelings side by side. Indeed, we can never know the depth of what another person is holding in their hearts. I dream of a world where we listen to one another, and help each other carry the burden of tears, celebrate life’s delights, and dwell in hope.