Posted by: Renee | November 22, 2011

A New and Holy Song

By Jennifer Welch

This past Saturday, I spent time attending a workshop called “Love Your Neighbor.” Rachel Harvey with Reconciling Ministries Network informed us on how we could make a possible difference at the 2012 General Conference. We learned that the time to work at changing the divisive language in The Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality is now. We reviewed storytelling techniques and developed and practiced those skills because there is great power in our individual stories. Each and every story possesses the potential to transform a delegate’s political stance regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.

As I helped organize the “Love Your Neighbor” event with like-minded friends, I found myself in many interesting discussions on the topics of love, relationship, and marriage. Among these friends, the subject of sex, which is often taboo and off-limits, was suddenly and unabashedly on the table for open and honest discussion. I became so much more informed about alternative sexual practices and love/relationship styles. I had previously bought into the social code of political correctness and like a “good” Southern girl, I have often remained quiet on the topics of religion and politics. But having tread into these conversations with curiosity and respectfulness, I have found that many of us actually have such a deep desire to share each other’s knowledge and opinions. And from these many conversations, I discovered two important truths:
1) When it comes to love, relationship or marriage styles and/or sexual preferences, there is no such thing as “normal.” We all think there is a normal, but what we actually believe in is a cultural myth. Very, very few people actually live happily ever after trying to live up to the prescribed cultural myth and so “normal” isn’t even a norm.
2) Our cultural myth keeps getting passed down to the next generation through children’s story books and Disney movies. But the myth hurts and damages us because we aren’t told as adolescents or young adults that there is any other way. So, when an individual feels an incongruence between the myth and what actually delivers joy or bliss, that individual usually suffers as if he/she is blazing a new path. But, in actuality, it’s NOT a new path. So many have blazed a similar path. I have had an epiphany about the danger and injustice of self-inflicted silence. Silence will perpetuate the myth to another generation if we fail to talk about our own frustrations in trying to maintain the myth or if we fail to talk about the way we’ve managed to find joy in a unique way.

Recognizing these truths has led to me opening up and intentionally welcoming conversation with people different than me. One particular individual shared with me his story of gender change. Born anatomically a female, this person decided in college that he wanted to identify as male and began taking hormones. Now, nearly a decade later, this person named Duncan looks male from the outward appearance. If he did not openly and bravely talk about his gender identity change, I would never have known to contact him about telling me more.

Another important part of my friend’s story involves more than just a gender identity change. During this time of transformation, Duncan acknowledged within that he needed to make a faith change too because he felt that he would not find acceptance within his faith of origin, Christianity. It is obvious that he wants to live an authentic and honest life, yet he also wanted to steer clear of the pressure, judgment or condemnation he might receive from the majority of Christian believers. I am glad to say that he has found community among Jewish believers, and he speaks fondly of Beth Israel and his Rabbi. On the night that he came to my house for dinner, he had just gotten out of a class at his temple. Duncan takes his faith journey very seriously.

I have thought about Duncan a lot over the past week. In my own recent past, I have miscarried four consecutive times and felt confused and frustrated with my body and my perceptions of what my body should be capable of doing. I have also been so angry with God for not making me the way I think I ought to be; it has been a difficult internal struggle to accept and then to embrace what I know about myself. I don’t know if Duncan ever had similar feelings, but I know when I was in that dark place, I received compassion and sympathy from family and friends. And though I’d attended church sparingly in the last decade, I suddenly felt a deep-seated need to study aspects of faith, to worship publicly, and to connect whole-heartedly to my faith community. I cannot imagine my pain, anger, humiliation, frustration, confusion, and fear being compounded by a lack of understanding and compassion from family and friends. Yet I do know that Duncan transitioned without the understanding and compassion of his family. But, had I been turned away from my church or been ostracized by my faith community in that vulnerable moment, I would have found life difficult to endure. Neither Duncan nor I asked for our fate, but we live into the challenges of accepting our inner reality. Our religions – the places of worship, our faith leaders, and the community of believers – are supposed to restore hope and affirm us of our self worth. In that sense, Christianity failed Duncan.

I am glad that Duncan ultimately found community and seems so comfortable with himself. His willingness to accept the challenges I can imagine he has endured and will continue to endure inspires me. I am grateful to him for continuing to live an authentic life in spite of difficulties, mass misunderstanding, and prejudices. But I also hope for and envision a future in which the Christian community accepts and celebrates people of all minorities. I value diversity among my own kith and kin, and so I smile to think of how much more God must celebrate the uniqueness of each individual. Dr. Beatrice Bruteau, a Christian mystic, states that we know God better through an appreciation of the many varied aspects of creation. She writes:

Diversity is absolutely essential to the unity of the composed being. The more diversity, the better. It means the greater the variety of the relations and interactions among the composing entities, the more intricate the composed unity. Think of a painting with fifty different shades of color rather than one made with only three. Or think of an orchestra with fifty different instruments instead of a single instrument—the different players interact with one another, increasing the being of the whole, the richness, the beauty.

From one point of view, diversity might seem to complicate and challenge the system. But this view lacks the ability to see the power and grandness of unity. That orchestra of fifty different instruments can make a racket if they all have their own agenda and are vying to be heard the loudest. But with purpose and direction, those fifty different instruments could make music beautiful enough to make the hardest hearted Scrooge weep. We should all put our trust in the Divine Conductor. God will lead us in making a new and holy song.

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Responses

  1. wonderful – absolutely wonderful! thank you!


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