Born This Way: Risking the Waves & Calming the Storm
Episode 14 – June 25, 2018
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All music this episode was performed by the Eastminster United Church Choir.
Read by Sarah Miller, Michiko Bown-Kai and Jane Sanden of East End United, live from PRIDE Toronto
Love for the World
Part of each episode of the Living Presence Podcast will feature a section where we lift up people and places who can use our alliance, our attention and some hope. (If you are from a United Church, this would be similar to “Prayers of the People” or “Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession”).
The idea and our hope are that listeners from all over can send in the people and places they would like to bring to our attention, and I would love it if YOU would consider sending something in to be aired. You can either a) record something with the voice recorder app on your phone and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org OR b) call 289-903-0019 and leave a voicemail OR c) Leave a written comment and I will read it on the air.
THIS WEEK WE LIFT UP:
- Our first segment is brought to you by Chelsea Skaynes & Sarah Jane Wetelainen live from PRIDE Toronto. (I’m not crying…YOU’RE crying! )
Wonderful Creator, Constant Friend,
people of every sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity
have the right to live with dignity and without persecution or discrimination.
we remember in our prayers:
LGBTQ+ people of Chechnya, Uganda, Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and elsewhere who have been murdered and tortured because of who they are.
We remember them and the people who love them.
LGBTQ+ refugees from around the world seeking safety and sanctuary.
We remember them and the people who welcome them.
Trans and gender-diverse people in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and elsewhere, who are targeted victims of hate crimes and assaults.
We remember them and the people who love them.
LGBTQ+ people whose dignity and self-esteem have been eroded
by hateful systems and structures.
We remember them and seek to be people who love more fully.
Individually, we each uniquely reflect your glory and express your love,
but anti-gay violence, homophobia, and transphobia
have blocked many from recognizing your beauty in all people.
All of creation suffers from the effects of such hate, fear, and violence.
Today, we re-dedicate ourselves to building bridges of love and hope
where harmful divisions have been made,
making equity and equality for all people our goal,
while working continually for justice, so that
Everyone can live fully in your love. Amen.
So, I’ve mentioned my husband, Jason, more than a few times on this podcast. It’s hard for me to remember that there ever was a time before he was my husband and before we had children, but of course, there was. And there was that really precious time in any emerging relationship where you’re still getting to know one another. And part of getting to know your partner is getting to know their parents.
Now, I grew up in Central Ontario, so Jason had the opportunity to meet my parents relatively early in our relationship. Jason’s parents are divorced. His mother lives in Calgary near his sister, and his father and stepmother live on Vancouver Island. So, the only way I was going to meet his parents was if it was clear this relationship was…serious.
So, in April 2010, I finished a Western Canadian music tour, and Jason flew out to meet me in Vancouver, and I finally got to meet his father, Harry.
Now, Harry is what you might call an alpha male. He’s a smart, talented business guy. He was heavily involved with federal politics in the 1990s. The first day I met him, we were driving back to his home from the ferry as he told a story (which I’ve since heard half a dozen times) about how he accidentally stabbed himself in the leg while cleaning a moose, but it was no big deal. Attempting to make a connection with the father of the man I already hoped would someday be my husband, I said to him, “Oh Harry – I didn’t know you go hunting!”
“Bri-anne, I don’t go hunting. I go killing.”
This is my father in law. He has been incredibly good to me, and I love him dearly. But yeah – this is a guy who rarely questions his abilities.
Just before our visit, Harry had purchased his first serious fishing boat. A serious boat for a serious fisherman. Because it was his first serious boat – meant for fishing salmon and halibut on the Pacific – he brought a guide along the first time we went out in the inlet. We had a great time, caught some fish. Everybody was happy.
The next day, Harry wanted to go out on the boat again, this time without the guide. He was going to pilot the boat himself. So, for the second morning in a row, I got myself up at 3:00am (because that’s what you do to impress somebody whose son you’re hoping to someday marry) piled in the car and drove off to the marina in Port Alberni. We puttered around the inlet, trolled for some salmon and then after Harry got bored of that, he said he wanted to take the boat into the open water. He then asked me if I got seasick. I confidently said I did not get seasick, and off we went.
Now, an appropriate follow-up question might have been, “Have you ever been on open ocean water before?” Because the answer to that question would also have been “no”, and I had absolutely no idea that swells on the ocean were any different than swells in, say, the middle of Lake Ontario. For those of you who might possibly be as ignorant as I was let me tell you – yes, they are different. Very different. And within a few minutes of getting into the open water, I was not feeling my greatest. I was still functioning – it mostly felt like a mild carsickness. But, I wasn’t at my best.
Jason and I started jigging for halibut on either side of the boat and all was going well until Harry made a sharp turn without letter us know. Before we could react, our fishing lines got crossed and caught in the motor, which stalled and stopped working. We tried the trolling motor, which is a tiny secondary motor used when fishing for salmon…and it wasn’t working either.
So in case you’ve lost track at this point, here is the scene:
We’re in a new boat, which my boyfriend’s father is taking out for the first time on his own. We are in open water. I’ve just discovered that I do, in fact, get seasick and we have lost both means of steering and propulsion. So, we’re just…floating. Floating towards a large reef, which is pretty much the only thing between us and Japan. We were not in a good situation.
And I was scared. Really scared. But…I am not an experienced fisher…man? Fisherperson? I am not and was not an experienced catcher of fish. And it’s obvious I didn’t have any experience on the water. And I was frightened…but I was frightened for the wrong reason. I was scared…because I thought I had broken Harry’s boat. I thought there was something I should have done with the lines but didn’t, and now my future father in law’s boat is broken and it’s all my fault and…
That was stupid. What I actually should have been frightened about was how dangerous it was to just be floating around on the open water towards this reef. Up to a point, Jason was remaining fairly calm, but I soon understood just how much trouble we were in when Harry threw the instruction manual at him and said, “Here – see if you can figure something out.”
Harry is not the kind of guy who reads the directions.
We were probably pretty close to calling the coast guard…
…and then I threw up over the side of the boat like I’d never thrown up in my life.
It was awful.
Now, Peter and the other disciples in our Gospel reading today….they were experienced fishermen, and they got it. They understood the gravity of a storm on the water. A large storm is basically a fisherman’s worst nightmare. So, on a boat with a bunch of experienced fishermen, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that people are kinda losing their mind. Jesus’ response almost doesn’t seem fair. Or maybe that’s the point. I have an anaphylactic allergy to bees. So, I was thinking last night that if Jesus ever wanted to test me, he’d ask me to drive us “to the other side” (which means a foreign land, so maybe we’re driving to Niagara Falls) and then fall asleep just as I realize there is an open beehive in the back seat.
“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
It’s not that I don’t have faith in Jesus. I just don’t have so much faith in the bees.
Often, our greatest fears are the fears we’ve learned to be afraid of because we understand what’s at stake.
In my work with the Living Presence Ministry, I serve many different demographics of people who can be categorized in any number of configurations. One way folks can be categorized is by what their relationship to the Church is, and has been in the past.
The first group of people are what we call “chuched” people – yes, church as a verb. These are people who are members of, or connected to a Christian faith community, and for whom this has generally been a positive experience.
The second group are unchurched people – people who have had no experience of church, or any other faith community. They have grown up and currently exist in an entirely secular environment. It’s possible that the only experience these people have with the church is what they see represented by the media on television.
Then there are people who belong to faith communities other than Christian.
And finally, number four – the dechurched people. These are people who have had a connection to a Christian faith community in the past, but for whom the experience has either not maintained relevancy or, sadly more often than not, has been acutely damaging. In the United Church, there are two specific groups where we have done a considerable amount of harm. The first is Indigenous peoples, and the second are members of LGBTQ+ communities.
It was only in 1988 that the United Church began to allow anybody, regardless of sexual orientation, to be full members within the church, and therefore eligible for ordered ministry. In most other denominations around the world today, LGBTQ2+ people are not allowed to serve in leadership positions. There are many up and coming youth-oriented churches, with rock music and video feeds of sermons piped into high school gyms and movie theatres, who tell the media they are very welcoming of people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And to a point, this is true. They are welcome to sit in the seats and take part in the service and join the small groups. But ultimately, their relationships are still considered sinful – perhaps a sin no greater than adultery, or coveting, but a sin nonetheless. And they will never be allowed to be a pastor at that church, a youth leader, music director, or any position of accountable leadership.
I have friends who were highly involved members of their church until they were told they could no longer volunteer or work on committees. They’d been attending that church for 15 years. It broke their heart.
I have other friends who grew up within the Pentecostal tradition, and can no longer set foot inside of any church building because of the hostility and violence they experienced when people found out who they loved.
And so church becomes their biggest nightmare. It was the fear they knew because they understood what was at stake.
And just as my faith in bees is suspect, for many people in LGBTQ+ communities, it is not faith in the God that is lacking. It’s faith in the people who claim to follow Jesus. Because how can you reconcile the hypocrisy of huge swaths of Christians who talk about Christ’s love and faith in a man who always stood with those on the margins, and yet act in such cruel and harmful ways towards God’s beloved children.
Depending on which translation of this passage we use, it can sound like fear is the opposite of faith. It is not. But fear can make it harder to access faith. It can make it harder for folks who have been harmed to access their spiritual center, or know what it is to be in a healthy faith community, because of the harm that has been inflicted upon them.
Fear can also make it harder to access faith for those who refuse to accept those who are gay, lesbian, queer, transgender, two-spirited, gender fluid, and any of the many other expressions of identity and integrity. It is harder for those people who are fearful and prejudiced to live faithfully in the world. When Jesus says “love one another”, and “love your neighbour,” – with no conditions, with no footnotes – that means loving, wholeheartedly, all of God’s creation. It is hard to access a faithful, christ-inspired life, if we don’t.
After the famous battle of David vs. the Giant, David finds comfort with Jonathan, Saul’s son.
“For he loved him as his own soul.”
Now, there is much disagreement about the nature of Jonathan and David’s relationship. There are scholars who believe that their love was philial – a deep, brotherly kind of love. In current Western culture, we have a very specific understanding and value level placed on friendship. Romantic relationship and familial relationships are often prioritized over friendships in terms of investment. We assume this is how things work all over the world and have always worked. It is not. It is entirely possible the Jonathan and David had a deeply intimate loyalty and friendship that our 21st century North American minds have trouble wrapping our heads around.
But there are also academics who suggest that David and Jonathan were in a romantic, plausibly sexual relationship with one another.
I would argue for a moment, and I say this tentatively because I really do love picking apart the origins of scripture…for a moment I would say…it doesn’t really matter what the intention of the author was.
What does matter how we feel when we read it.
What would it mean if the King of Israel, a man with direct lineage to Jesus, what would it mean if he was a bisexual man? Would that change how we see his narrative? Maybe yes? Maybe no? Maybe it would be great for those in same-sex relationships to see themselves represented in scripture? But if our automatic response to the wondering about David and Jonothan’s love is an emotional, reactionary – NO. Not possible. Don’t even go there…it is worth exploring…why? Why can’t we go there? Why can’t we explore it? What is at stake? Where is the fear coming from?
It is not enough for our congregations to just say we are welcoming. I promise you, those in LGBTQ+ communities who have been harmed were harmed by churches who thought of themselves as welcoming. They fear the storm they’ve been taught to fear. The Church created the storm. And it’s going to take a lot more time, and even more intention, to undo the hurt and calm that fear.
It means being visibly allied with the queer community. Rainbows are a good…start. It means probably taking part in the United Church’s affirming process. It means publicly calling out practices in our communities and in our governments, that work to oppress, leave out and harm gay and trans people; doing it publically, and putting the congregation’s stamp on the statement or letter to the editor. If there is a commitment to this, after a period of time of seeing faithful witness to loving all God’s people lived out in the world, our friends who have been harmed might consider…might consider…exploring what life in a community dedicated to being God’s hands in the world might look like.
Back to the Pacific Ocean…
As we were floating towards that reef, Harry realized the only way we were going to get out of our dilema was for him to roll up his sleeves, and his pants, and climb in the water to fix the engine. It was April 3rd. The water was freezing and the task was painful. The time in the water also forced him to face his responsibility in our predicament. However, he was also the one who got us out of the mess. Harry saved us that day. And…he said he was sorry. That might have been even harder than climbing in the freezing water… He also took action to make sure it never happened again, by signing up for more driving lessons at the marina.
In much the same way, the United Church has acknowledged the pain we have caused and has asked congregations to roll up their sleeves and do some hard work.
Something I’ve learned more and more as I travel through ministry, just because people don’t belong to a religious community doesn’t mean there isn’t a desire to seek out answers to the deep questions and mysteries of life. But it is up to the Church – to us – to remove the barriers of fear and the barriers that prevent access to safe spaces to explore a life of faith. Barriers to learning about One who has calmed the storm, about a Creator who loves us just as we are, and a Spirit who binds us all together in the holy mystery of love.
May it be so.