Jeff Chu, the first speaker today, attends Old Reformed Church in Brooklyn, just a mile from my son's new apartment. He has found it a place of acceptance for him and his husband and says it is one of the reasons he is a Christian. He also gave credit to his grandmother who sang and prayed with him as a child although he did fault her for her saying many times, "Be quiet. Boys don't cry.." He said this kind of toxic masculinity hurts us all not just gay men. As Rachel Evans did, he did not put down his conservative evangelical upbringing but said it was a part of why he was a Christian. He said, "The church passed me up but the love of God would not let me go....God's love waited for me." He had to get over "choosing pain and shame over the grace of God." I chuckled at his comment that some of his friends were gifted in many areas--one friend was gifted in text-messaging! Maybe I can claim a gift of emailing or Facebook messaging--probably not text-messaging yet! Although that is becoming more familiar to me as well.
Asher O'Callahan was born Mary O'Callahan. He said that as a 6 year old he tried to be a good little girl, but he found it very hard. He wished he was a boy. As a 12 year old, he was baptized due to a fear of hell made more pronounced by the Columbine shootings in his city. As a 20 year old, he was exhausted and wanted to die. As a young adult, he found his way to Nadia's church and found his belonging in the Eucharist--as a part of Christ's body and the body of that church community. He found the courage to follow through with changing his gender and his name and is now a Lutheran pastor. Asher spoke to us barefooted because he said he was standing on holy ground! He said, " I blame Jesus for all of this. He chased me out of hell. He was the only force more positive than my own shame and fear...I am glad to be alive."
As with Jeff, he is convinced that he was not a mistake or a genetic confusion but that he is loved and accepted by God as he is--and that his sexuality and gender identification is not a curse but a blessing. He said, "God chose who I am. He intended me to be this way."
I was very moved by both of their stories and by their awareness of the love of God for them as they were--even if the church of their youth was not accepting of them.
Unfortunately, I had a very hard time due to my seat and the echos in the church and a softer voice in understanding what Sandra Lopez had to say but it had to do with overcoming trauma. I know she credited Pepperdine as a place of sanctuary for her.
Rozella White was definitely a minority in the ELCA but it didn't bother her until the last few years when she has been very hurt by the black lives lost to police violence and the lack of reaction by her church. She refered to the "sin of whiteness" which I would like to have defined. I did appreciate her emphasis on the incarnation as a core of the good news--Jesus becoming man and thus there being the image of God in all of us. She certainly challenged us to be "incarnate in the world" and "to see people like me and love us."
Neichelle Guidry preached at the Eucharist in black cadences and patterns--one I am more used to from hearing men preach. It was a powerful message that centered on the theme "Jesus is still at the table"--and it led to the celebration of communion for all 800 of us. I had the privilege of taking the bread from Nadia who lifted it high and said it was for me as a child of God--and then using tincture in the chalice held by Rachel.
So now what have I learned and felt? I heard the name of Jesus over and over again this weekend. It was encouraging to see such a diverse group of men and women, gay and straight, black and white, old and young, all there because of a desire for faith and a desire to make the church a place where everyone can feel included. It supported my own feeble faith to have others express doubts and concerns and to recognize the flaws in the church but still want to be Christians. Hearing the stories of gay men and women and a trans-gender pastor was good for me and made me far more understanding of their differences. I can rejoice in their feeling that Jesus loves and accepts them.
I look forward to worship in our own church tomorrow--and celebrating communion there. I think I will have more of a sense of it celebrating it as a part of the body of Christ.