Text: Psalm 139; Galatians 3:23-29
Nothing has a greater impact on me than a real encounter. While I was doing a Master’s degree in the study of religion, I joined a religious research group to travel to China. I was studying ancient Chinese Scriptures of Taoism day and night, but my biggest learning didn’t come from reading the texts, but came from meeting Taoists on the high mountain in China. I remember their genuine smiles, hospitality, the powerful rituals they performed, and their humble life styles; they were living a life of balance with not much materials joyfully and fully. Taoism, after meeting with the Taoists, was no longer an ancient belief system that existed in the library; it became a real possibility that could change my life and others.
My biggest learning about Christianity also didn’t come from reading the texts or theology books, but came from meeting people, especially my LGBTQ friends who are Christians – ministers or laity. They helped me to unlearn things that didn’t make sense to me or to them. They taught me to appreciate what many of us take for granted – a sense of belonging. A colleague of mine in ministry shared her powerful testimony of two dramatically opposite experiences with the two different churches regarding communion – how she was not welcomed to the table because of her sexual orientation, and how she was welcomed to the table regardless her identity. One of the most profoundly spiritual persons I’ve ever met was a trans woman. She spoke about her journey of becoming who she was meant to be. Her deep self-awareness and spirituality broke down barriers – the confines of traditional Western ideas of gender.
It was a sexual minority group who challenged the church to practice a radical hospitality like Jesus did. They taught all of us in the church to act out of love not out of fear. During the long hours of emotional discussion at the 32nd General Council in Victoria, BC, Tim Stevenson, the first openly gay person to be ordained in Canada, spoke to the gathered people in the room, saying “Please come and talk to me, don’t just talk about me.” Their courage to speak their truth eventually helped the church to experience the transforming power of the spirit. They planted the seed of hope with their struggle, pain and tears, and it took the whole church to nurture the seed as we have continued to learn a radical hospitality. We can draw our circle wide, and make it wider still because of God’s radical love that can dissolve all the existing boundaries.
Again it was my friends from LGBTQ community who showed me such boundless love. Living where you don’t know the language or culture can be very intimidating. I remember a sense of dislocation and confusion while studying at Vancouver School of Theology. I don’t know how many times I had to watch my classmates talking back and forth with the instructor like a ping pong game. The language barrier made me feel insecure at school and elsewhere. Those who helped me to participate in the life of the school and in the wider church, and eventually helped me to feel I belonged there, were usually the ones who also experienced exclusion somewhere else because of who they were.
As I shared in my column this week, I spent an incredible weekend last week at Queer and Faithful, a conference about intersectionality of faith, race and queerness. Seven panelists shared their experiences with their communities of faith. They are Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Metis and Christian. The power of truth-telling unveiled the damage done to LGBTQ and Two Spirit persons in the name of religion. A question was raised during the Q & A which, I think, sums up the whole conference. What would be a role for LGBTQ and Two Spirit people in transforming communities of faith? In other words, how can religion be saved?
Although it’s not fair to ask a particular group of people to fix the problem of religious oppression, I think, the question implies possible alternatives to the dominant culture or system based on a hierarchical, top-down, bureaucratic and binary way of thinking and doing. Many of my queer friends practice their faith not despite of but because of their queerness. It has deepened their understanding of the Holy, and I believe, it can help broaden and deepen our understanding of the Holy. A variety of expressions of faith and of who we are can only affirm the beloved creation that is always diverse and beautiful.
Now I invite you to listen to a story of Ruth Wood, the minister of Calvary Pastoral Charge in Kingston, Ontario. She talks about her new journey in life, that as a transgender person and her theological reflection on acceptance and love.