Here is a link to listen to the sermon by The Rev. Edwin Chinery on June 30, 2019, Pride Sunday. There is also a link to the scripture for this Sunday and the text of the sermon below.
Some of the wisest among us – the most spiritually and psychologically astute among us – have suggested, if not insisted in the last century or more, that three basic motivations drive much of our behavior. These motivators are: the wishes for love, for safety, and for a sense of belonging. Sometimes this is obvious and natural – and realizing these needs, though requiring intention and effort, is reasonably unconflicted. But at other times, deep and confusing tangles of feeling, enmesh with things we don’t understand, about all kinds of influences over our basic motivations. As a result we, wittingly or unwittingly, seek direction or guidance from the world around us, in hopes that we’ll somehow be returned to a place of relative peace – of spiritual equilibrium. And at such times, we tend to take the shortest route to what we think of as a sense of….well, resolve, at least. Normalcy.
From the time I was a very small child, I knew that I was loved. Loved by my parents, my siblings, my friends, schoolmates, my faith community. Certainly things occurred as I grew that tested that confidence, but I suppose that’s just part of growing up. Overall I knew I was loved and safe and that I belonged. And then, as I grew, elements of my true nature began to present. I wasn’t like my athletic brothers. I showed different tendencies – had more in common somehow with my sisters and other girls in the neighborhood. I look back, quite tenderly, on this budding awareness and recognize this was me becoming who I am. Being gay – and I guess irrepressibly so. My nature couldn’t be contained despite the complete absence of a role model. But I also look back, and see in my mind’s eye how these different parts of my true nature were received by my incredibly devout Roman Catholic parents. You see, when we’re little children, the only way we can learn about ourselves is by our parents’ reactions to us. And these ‘different’ parts of my “full-self” were consistently met with stone-like countenance. It wasn’t violent or tragic – not pronounced, even – but it was enough to whisper a tiny message in my heart that said, “…something about you is not welcome here…not welcome and certainly not celebrated.”
But this experience, while undeniably significant, was somewhat benign, I’ve come to learn. It didn’t become the primary marker of my identity, let alone place me, overtly, in the path of harm or danger. Like I said, I knew I was loved and safe and that I belonged – for the most part – to the tribe or tribes into which I was born.
My reality – a reality of half a century ago – can truly be called benign compared to that of the vast majority of LGBT+ children and youth of that time, and even to the experience of many today. Some statistics show that of the approximately 50,000 homeless youth in the US on any given day, 20% to 40% self-identify as LGBT+. And of that group, 1 in 4 has been kicked out of their homes – sometimes beaten out of their homes. And we’re not even talking about the suicide rates. Please God we are living at a time when this reality has the potential to become a powerful social justice icon.
It’s tempting to become emotionally reactionary – to act out of anger. A friend of mine, on learning of these statistics, seriously suggested that a public service campaign should be mounted that would send groups to the homes of people who’d kicked their own kids out, and shame them with picket signs and all manner of loud public protest. But I’m not feelin’ it. I’m actually pretty sure that blame and shame is exactly the opposite of how we would best direct our spirit and energy in response to news of behaviors like this. Kindness toward the disaffected is more the order of the day. And the good news is that lots of opportunities to offer kindness, compassion and assistance – to fulfill these young peoples’ wishes to feel loved, safe and a sense of belonging – lots of opportunities – all around you – it doesn’t take much effort to enter in – in fact, there’s a certain water-table ministry available this very day, jus’sayin’!
Even so. I can’t help but wonder why parents and families would kick their LGBT+ kids out. What could they be afraid of? O, I’ve heard the great litany of reasons and influences:
- What would the neighbors think?
- I can’t have a gay child living in my home. I’ve always been told God hates fags
- My husband or wife would explode – my father would roll over in his grave
- They’re all child molesters anyway – recruiting innocent straight kids *
- It’s unnatural – especially those trans people
- My faith leaders are banning any kind of education about LGBT+ people and issues
- And others – some of whom are religious leaders AND police officers – are shouting from rooftops that all gay people should be killed
- We live in a very conservative community
Maybe parents who kick their own children out of the house are motivated by wishes to feel loved, to feel safe and to feel a sense of belonging. Maybe they’re taking the shortest route to that place where they think they’ll find some kind of resolve inside their hearts. And maybe they’re seeking guidance from the world they know. Desperate to find something to hang on to.
It’s that hanging on I want to poke at for a minute.
Because, for me, I can’t begin to reflect upon something like “conservative community” influence and all that goes with it, until I look at the religious implications that have been at the heart of this, and very likely all other issues of justice.
It’s no secret that some religious groups have interpreted God’s law – and have even done the exhausting work of interpreting Jesus’ teachings, though I don’t know how – in ways that condemn us LGBT+ people. And yet, St. Paul – whose words are often the lightning rod in this issue – tells us in today’s passage that “For freedom Christ set us free”. Free to live the single commandment in which all of God’s law is summed up – “Love your neighbor as yourself”. He talks about “the law” a lot, Paul does. And there’s a growing chorus of scholarly voices suggesting that what he tries to say can be interpreted in this way: God’s law is a wonderful thing. It’s a gift from God. But in a way it has its limitations. What if God’s law was meant to guide, strengthen and inform us – to form us? And then, what if we’re meant to let go of it and try to live by the spirit IN the law. One illustration of this theology I found very helpful, spoke about comparing the law to the kind of toy my little one-year-old grand-nephew Jack loves to play with lately. It’s like a little cart with 4-wheels – almost like a shopping cart – with a handlebar that he grabs on to as he practices walking. The cart stabilizes him as he gains the strength he’ll need in his arms, legs and core, so that he can let go of the cart and move into a life of freedom. What if that’s the purpose of God’s law? To shape us, so that we can expand and move through the world fully formed in God’s image and filled with the spirit of God’s purpose and action. What if God’s law, if grasped too tightly and for too long, actually becomes a limiting thing? What if it winds up keeping us tethered to a tangible, material object because we’re afraid of letting go? What if it’s God desire for us, instead, to come to trust that what we’ve learned from being formed by God’s spirit is how to broadly, openly, creatively and expansively interpret the encounters of our daily lives in ways that foster love, safety and belonging?
If that were so, this world would be far less likely to rely on overused knee-jerk responses that, when you think about it, have a long history of being misused to create a culture of fear that still flourishes today. Still flourishes, but, thanks-be-to-God has a chance of becoming less and less the dominant influence.
I love this kind of thinking. It says, “Don’t support your position by claiming it’s God’s desire for you to be fearful or hateful. Don’t even rely on cultural influences – your faith or family culture – that may have sprung from misinterpretations of God’s law and desire for the world. Use your heart and your creativity to discern and display your best guess as to what it will take for you to follow God’s real desires – which have everything to do with loving your neighbor and yourself. Follow God, not the law or even your family traditions! For God’s sake stand up and be godless, if that’s what it will take for you to receive and share the gifts the law was made to impart!”
I’ve actually begun to wonder if this isn’t behind what Jesus is doing in this classically thorny gospel passage today. He’s set his face to Jerusalem. Nothing, now, will divert him from fulfilling God’s purpose. And right out of the gate he has a couple of very significant exchanges. He tells a would-be follower to let the dead bury their own dead. And then he tells another hopeful not to go home and say goodbye to his kinfolk. These sound rather harsh. But a new understanding and interpretation has begun to flow. It flows from the letting go of the law. And from even releasing what may appear as required codes of social or family conduct that can sometimes be adhered to largely because of their longevity. What if Jesus is trying to make a point by saying things that are meant to elicit real emotional reaction. That’s sometimes how God wants to make a point in scripture stories – how God really gets your attention – by drawing you into those ever-recurring wrestling matches God loves to get into with you so that God may hold you close. What if the point Jesus is trying to make is this: There may come a time when you’ll have to choose to leave behind a kind of comfortable understanding of how things should work in the world, in order for you to truly follow God – and when that happens, follow God.
I truly believe that the Pride Movement is very much in keeping with this theology. It’s a deep, and powerful, and very godly expression of what it means to follow God even if it means making something new – something that seems, at first, to run counter to long-held beliefs about God’s desires for us. It’s part of making new space rather than continuing to try to stretch existing social systems so LGBT+ folks can be squeezed in somehow – this from Hannah Soldner, our forum speaker from last Sunday.
Pride, in this case, is not one of the seven deadly sins. That’s another sermon entirely. This Pride is a celebration. A celebration and even more. It’s a necessity. If this entire event were to have been planned exclusively for those teens who’ve been kicked out of their homes so they could have a place where they feel they belong – that would be enough to justify all of the energies that have been expended to make this day and this movement happen. Pride is definitely a social icon too. It’s a beacon of hope for all the young people – for people of every age – who need to feel that they…that we…belong. That we’re loved, we’re safe, and we belong. It’s a necessary opportunity, even if the result is that one child of God can stand up and say, “You can’t do this to me anymore. Love is love is love. I don’t want to make your straight kids gay. I only want your gay kids to survive – to thrive and to feel loved and safe and that they belong.”
One last thought: I think I misspoke a little while ago. I said I didn’t have a role model. But I did. It was Jesus. He’s been drawing me in this direction all my life. And he’s available to everyone who feels like they might not belong. He’s available, not just in this place – not just in Christian communities – he’s available every time you stop for a minute and breathe with the intention of trying to see the human being inside a person you can’t understand or don’t agree with. Every time you experience or exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control. Jesus and belonging are available in all your prayers and worship.
And today I’m pretty sure that one of his favorite places to hang is all around this great big spectacle of belonging that’s headed our way!