“Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had.”
― Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self
I’ve thought a good deal in recent years about what that word signifies. As a gay man who came of age, and came out, in 1985, I’m no stranger to how much North American society has evolved in the 33 years since the day before my 21st birthday, when I told a counselor at my undergraduate university the words that I’d dreaded to say up to that point: “I am gay.”
At that time, the idea of affirming communities or churches was a non-starter. Homosexuality had just been removed from the American Psychological Association’s diagnostic criteria manual as a pathology only 13 years prior, but it was still a common view of us among a broad swath of the population. My own coming out and coming of age story played out against the backdrop of the rise of the AIDS pandemic and witnessing my peers – many in their 20s and 30s – who were dying of a plague that they were told by society and the churches they deserved.
Resilience has been a lived reality for me over the decades. It allowed me to survive and ultimately overcome those formative years of anxiety and depression, of alcohol addiction and personal despair. Resilience has ultimately been, for me, a gift from God that was engendered by hope, and one that is now so deeply woven into my own story that it begs that it be shared with others. Resilience has become my own witness to what resurrection might look like in our own time, and has come to signify how the grace of God tends to work best: through our stories.
In advance of this year’s Spirit Pride gathering, it is noteworthy that each of the speakers joining us at Spirit Pride exemplifies in profound ways the resilience of our community:
– Jennifer Knapp is a Christian singer whose coming out as lesbian predicated the loss of her huge following, but who then pursued the study of theology to bring her faith and music to a place of healing for the community.
– Michelle Douglas’ firing in decades past from the RCMP drove to her legal advocacy that resulted in the extension of a formal apology this past year by Justin Trudeau to LGBT+ people similarly fired by the Canadian government.
– Tyler Alan Jacobs is a Squamish fashion designer and dancer/choreographer who identifies as two-spirit, and who narrowly survived a vicious bashing by people with whom he was raised. He overcame the violence and extensive reconstructive surgery, and went on to work in the arts and in dance with Cirque de Soleil, Nelly Furtado, and as a dance artist in his own right. He also dedicates his time to working with at-risk First Nations youth.
– Matthias Roberts and Beth Carlson-Malena were raised with the messages of abomination from their own denominations in the church, but moved past their upbringing to seek a new way of reading the word of God, to pursue theological studies, and to work as their generation’s leaders in the emerging church movement, by way of their ministries, their blogging, writing, counselling, and establishing safe spaces.
We in the LGBTQ+ community are a diverse microcosm of the broader population in which we live, but if anything unifies us, it’s a holy resilience that so many of us who have overcome the pain and barbs of a world that would like to keep us on fringes exhibit on a daily basis. Though many obstacles would keep us from uncovering the authentic immortal diamond within ourselves, our resilience is a gift from God whose witness is carried to others by way of our stories.
I believe that this gift is meant to be cast like bread on the waters for the benefit of the world. For a God whose life-giving grace has always worked through unexpected people and in unexpected ways (and often from society’s margins), it is my belief that we as a community are among the best positioned to teach the world what perseverance, grace, and forgiveness look like from a different vantage point.
Come celebrate these spiritual gifts at the 2018 Spirit Pride conference this weekend, July 27-29, 2018. SpiritPride welcomes the LGBTQ2+ community, as well as allies, friends, and family. Members of St Andrew’s-Wesley who have attended previous years all stated how much they gained and learned by attending.