I am writing this post with quite a bit of hesitation. In about a month, I will be starting Seminary. I will be surrounded by people who are hoping to be pastors, rectors, and other positions of leadership in their churches. And I am not. It feel it is hypocritical of me, or at least very presumptuous, to impose any more opinions onto congregation leaders than they already must wrestle with. So, I hope what I have to say will not be an imposition on them, but an encouragement. Not another thing to put on their checklists, but another reason to throw their checklists away.
At my church here in Seattle, I have had the pleasure of hearing unusual things from the pulpit. Today, Father Jay, a wise, white whiskered man shared some of his experience of love rising from suffering in the context of his relationship with his husband. Another man, Father Stephen, who used to be our deacon, preached the first sermon I heard at my church. He too, shared about he and his husband’s experiences during that sermon. Listening to him was one of the reasons I chose to make St. Paul’s my home church.
I dearly hope that some of you reading this do not understand why I find men talking about their husbands so wonderful, but if the church is as I think it is, you all know exactly why this is so odd and revolutionary. We are in the middle (though hopefully near the end) of a time period where the church teaches that anything other than heterosexuality is sinful, though unlike the other sins, they choose to demean and abuse this ‘sin’ above all the rest of them. Many churches have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of policy when it comes to sexuality, though many more are outright abusive. Until that first sermon at St. Paul’s, I don’t think I had ever listen to an openly queer person preach before. This made such an impact on me because when I experienced this, I realized that the church was a safe space for my queer friends. They had a place to go where they were not just the liberal token queer person or where they had to fight to prove they deserved to be there, but were they were a part of a community. They were represented. I find representation so important because I know I could not imagine myself as a teaching theologian, two things totally off limits for women in Fundamentalist churches, until I was being taught by theology by women.
So now let’s talk a bit about theology. “Incarnation” literally means “in meat”. God in meat; and skin and bones and teeth. It’s the theology surrounding this idea that God became a human; not a ghost resembling humanity but a human himself. In Jesus, God chose to do this in startling ways. They chose to become a brown man living under white imperial rule. They chose to be poor, hungry, and homeless in a society that believed that wealth equated to God’s blessing. They chose to preach a religious political message against the dual religious political powers of Jesus’ world. They chose to be persecuted and killed to show the depravity of the world around him. They hoped that someday they could convince us that goodness does not oppress, conform, or kill. At its core, I think the idea of incarnation needs to be married to the word vulnerability, especially when it comes to Jesus. Christ became a man in violent world to expose to how violent it really was. And it killed him; but it also gave him the opportunity to resurrect himself.
When I look up at the queer person in the pulpit of my church, I see the vulnerability that is trademark of the incarnation. When my rector spoke about her experience about being sexually assaulted by someone in her church’s leadership, I saw the incarnation. I saw pain and violence contained in a body that was working its way towards redemption. They were cruciform- they were cross-shaped. Like Christ, they exposed their own vulnerability in the pulpit. Their vulnerability was especially powerful for me as it speaks out against the institutions that have tried to withhold the communion and salvation from them in the first place- and in that chasm they are making way for other victims of church violence to find a place to come, rest, and be loved. The same meat that carries wounds also finds a way to carry healing too. Those once hungry are now giving away bread. The voices that were once silenced are now singing.
Welcome to Christianity.