It is never easy. You find yourself in a moment in which you need to tell someone something about yourself that, until this point, you have worked tirelessly to hide from the public. In fact, it has been that thing that kept you drowning in a sea of shame because you had been told that part of who you are is bad or sinful or wrong or sick or pathologic or some other equally demeaning and demoralizing word. Through years of struggle and fervent prayer, you have finally come to recognize that the part you’ve been trying to hide so very desperately is simply a part of who you are. You have realized that God wants you to share the whole of your being with others and to find that in doing so you are able to encounter God’s love in a fresh new way.
The journey that took you to the place you currently find yourself was not an easy one. Over the years, insults have been hurled at you from across the street, the hallway, the courtyard, the school yard, etc. Each of those moments was one in which you had to simply keep walking. You had to pretend that the insult didn’t hit you right in the center of your being. You had to pretend that it did not matter. The reality was quite different. It was something that caused pain in you. The words had a way of sinking down into your depths, and they had a way of slicing through the fiber of your being so that you felt like your whole inner world was on display for the world to see.
For the LGBTQ community, these moments are part of what it means to grow up and to claim your identity for yourself. Among other identities you might have that are visible to the world, this one had to be named and claimed by you. It was a part of the self that had to be integrated into the rest of who you are as a person. You had to figure out how to grab hold of the whole of who God created you to be in a way that celebrated all of the wonderful gifts and talents that God gave to you while still in your mother’s womb. The painful experiences were never fun, but they were part of how you began to knit together your own identity. Once you were able to claim the whole of you are as a beloved child of God, it was time to take the next step: to tell someone else.
In coming out to someone, you are made vulnerable with the person or persons you are telling. It is never a single thing that you do. Instead, it is something you do throughout your life as you meet new people and forge new relationships. Some places it is rather easy to do – when you know that you are in a safe and supportive environment. In other places, it can be really challenging to do. (Sadly, the church is still one of those places that is difficult to name and claim a queer identity.) In these conversations, it is inevitable that you encounter a person who reacts to your news in a negative way. Perhaps the person recoils once they hear what you have to share. Other times, you simply may not hear from them again. And still other times, you might have someone who makes passive aggressive comments. The challenging thing is to own your own feelings and to let another person own his or her own feelings. It is an invitation to know and claim your dignity in spite of how another has reacted to your vulnerability.
Beginning on Sunday, we are all going to be walking into a different world with the new mask policy at Epiphany. Some of us will continue to wear masks because, for one reason or another, we are not fully vaccinated. The invitation to all of us is going to be to continue practicing the way of love with one another. Some people will continue to wear a mask because they are more comfortable with that option. Some will wear masks because of their vaccination status. Some of us will choose not to wear a mask because we are fully vaccinated. No matter our status or whether we are wearing a mask or not, we are invited to continue loving one another as an extension of the self.
To that end, I am inviting all of us to be open to the other and to find ways to be present to each other. We will need to be intentional in the ways that we greet each other by asking what our preference is. Are you shaking hands now? Would it be okay if I hugged you? Do you prefer people to keep their distance still? All of these questions might be necessary questions as we learn to be in community with one another as things shift and change.
Within all of this, we are also invited to remember that we have promised in our Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every person. We have promised that we will not shame another for a decision that is right for the individual. In this new landscape, we will be stretched beyond our comfort zone. We will have to ask questions that might feel a bit odd to ask at first. All of what we will do over the coming weeks and months will help us to grow more and more into the fullness of the stature of Christ, and I hope you will keep following this journey with us as we honor God, neighbor, and self through the practice of our Covenant of Care.