I need to let go. Not give up. Just…let go.
I was 30 years old when I first attended an inclusive worship service in 1989. I doubt the memory of that experience will ever fade. It hasn’t yet even though I’m nearly doubled in years.
I wept. Uncontrollably. As hard as I tried to gather myself up (I was in public with a sanctuary full of people I had never met, for heaven’s sake!), I. Could. Not. Stop.
Occasionally, I try to put words to what I felt. I always fall short. I felt…safe? free? whole? Certainly, I felt loved. Accepted? No, that’s not it either. Appreciated. Celebrated. Yes! Maybe that’s it. And maybe for the first time, I could appreciate and celebrate me, too.
Flash forward to 2011. I experienced another inclusive worship service for the first time – an inclusive worship service with clergy and congregants in the Reformed Church in America. It was a profound homecoming for me. My life was full and happy and I never intended to be involved with the RCA again. Yet, there I was and these were “my” people appreciating and welcoming me. I immediately felt at home and fell in love with them – the same way I had immediately felt at home and fallen in love with Northwestern College. The same way I had felt at home and fallen in love with First Reformed Church in Orange City. Oh, there were tears as I sang hymns with them, took communion beside them and hugged them in a sign of Peace – but the “suitable for public venues” kind of tears. I was just as moved, you see, but I was no longer so very broken. I was whole and wholly me.
It has been a joy to reconnect with people of the RCA through Room for All. At first I had hope that I would reconnect and reunite with everyone I had ever known and loved in the RCA. But that dream soon turned to heart ache. When I read about battles erupting over LGBTQ inclusion in the RCA, when I see names of dear friends and classmates who believe people like me should remain in that broken place, my heart breaks all over again – not for me, but for the LGBTQ people who are still at home and in love with their church communities. I understand these friends believe with all their hearts they are acting out of love and they believe this is what God wants for us. Still, my heart breaks.
I don’t intend to be dramatic, and I don’t intend to be unkind. My intention is to share the truth of my experience as best I can – if not for anyone else, then for me. When I look back at my experience of coming out at Northwestern/First Reformed, I see myself as a frightened frog who put its trust in the good intentions of those I loved and who loved me. Even as they placed me in the water and slowly turned up the heat, even as they separated me from the person I was closest to, even as they prayed for me to be healed of who I was, even as I slowly began to fall apart, I couldn’t imagine leaving the community I loved. We love you, they said. Yet I was only welcomed if I left part of myself at the door. I was included they said. But only if I was trying to become something other than who I really was. You’re an equal, they say. But you do not have the right to the same kind of mutual love and relationship that fulfills us and allows us to flourish.
I didn’t fully know the pain of oppression until I was no longer oppressed. I didn’t understand the full extent of abuse until I was no longer emotionally abused. I didn’t fully feel the spiritual and psychological damage of being pathologized and pitied until I was appreciated and celebrated.
It pains me to know some I still hold dear would open their doors to me only if I believed my rightful place was back in that “holy” fire whose scars I still bear. It breaks my heart to know there are young LGBTQ people who are still taught to believe that is where God wants them to be. I understand they are well intentioned and this is what they believe is best. I understand they truly feel they are following God’s will for my life and theirs. I will always hope for the day when they might fully understand what I believe and why. But for now, I really do need to let go.