Identity”

Worship Script 1


 Worship Script (1 of 5)

 OPENING WORDS

Written by Emily DeTar Birt,  inspired by the hymna Whoever You Are

 

Whoever you are,

We welcome you

Wherever you come from,

We welcome you.

Whomever you love,

We welcome you.

No boxes, No ids,

No labels necessary

To enter this sacred house

For whatever you bring,

Whatever you have,

Whoever you are,

Only adds to the welcome of this place.

 

 

HYMN #118 This Little Light of Mine

 

FIRST READING

“Mattering” by Mark Hicks  

Originally written anonymously by a gay, high school student and adapted by Mark Hicks.

 

My father asked if I am gay

I asked Does it matter?

He said, No not really

I said, Yes.

He said get out of my life.

I guess it mattered.

 

My friend asked why I talk about race so much?

I asked, Does it matter?

He said, No not really

I told him, Yes.

He said, You need to get that chip off your shoulder.

I guess it mattered.

 

My neighbor asked why I put that ramp up to my front door.

I said, Does it matter?

He said, No not really

I told him because it made my life easier.

He said, Is there a way to make it less obvious?

I guess it mattered.

 

A member of my church asked why I like gospel music.

I asked, Does it matter?

She said, No, not really.

I told her that it connects me to my southern, Christian childhood.

She said, I think you’re in denial about your oppression.

I guess it mattered.

 

My God asked me, Do you love yourself?

I said, Does it matter?

She said, YES!

I said, How can I love myself? I am gay, Latino, disabled, and a Christian in a hostile climate.

 

She said that is the way I made you.

Nothing will ever matter again. 

 

 

SECOND READING

“Any Other Questions” by Victoria E. Safford

 

People ask me sometimes, “Is this a gay church?” 

It is a privilege to answer: “Ours is absolutely, gladly, hopefully and humbly, gaily, a gay church, a gay tradition, where everyone, including heterosexual members and friends, is welcome, where everyone is needed, where everyone’s experience is cherished as a sacred text, because no one’s experience of living or loving can be comprehensive, because each of us holds clues the others need about how to live with dignity and joy as a human person, and none of us knows enough about that yet to be considered whole. 

"It is absolutely a gay church, even as ours is a gay world, if you would look around. Gay church, straight church, peoples’ church, a human congregation made holy by the holy hopes and fears and dreams of all who wish to come. Come in, we say. Come out, come in. We’re all in this together.” 

I will not speak of “tolerance,” with its courteous clenched teeth and bitter resignation. I will not speak about “acceptance,” of “other” people and some “other” kind of “lifestyle.” I can only look in laughing wonder at human life in all its incarnations. I can taste only in passing the breath of the spirit of life on my mouth and understand our common longing to breathe in deep, deep gulps of it. I cannot think of being anybody else’s “ally,” even, because even that implies some degree of separation—some degree of safety for some of us, not all. We are “allied” with no one and with nothing but love—the larger Love transcending all our understanding, within which all the different, differing, gorgeously various, variant, beautifully deviant aspects of ourselves are bound in elegant unity. 

I know that on some sad and disappointing days these words describe the church that yet shall be and not the church that is. I know, I know....But I know too that to answer is an act of creation. To answer this question, and some others, is a privilege, a prophetic imperative, a joy, a duty, and a holy sacrament.  

 

HYMN #18 What Wondrous Love

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

The Beautiful Tiger  by Christopher Buice

 

There once was a beautiful and powerful tiger.

One day she was captured by a mean and cruel man who put her into a cage. The man kept the cage in the jungle not far from his house. Everyday he would bring out a bowl of water and some food for the lonely tiger.

Sometimes the tiger would see her own reflection in the bowl of water and she would say, “My, I must be a beautiful tiger.”

When the man heard her say this he would lie and tell her, “No, you are not a beautiful tiger. You’re very ugly. You’re a pitiful creature.”

Sadly, the tiger would believe the man.

Some days, after she ate her food, she would walk back and forth in her small cage and feel energy and power moving through her body, and she would say, “My, I must be a powerful tiger.”

When the man heard her say this, he would lie and tell her, “No, you are weak and puny. You’re a pitiful creature.”

Sadly, the tiger would believe the man.

Then one day, when the man was nowhere around, a lion happened to walk by the cage. The lion saw the tiger inside and spoke to her, “Beautiful and powerful tiger, what are you doing lying about in that cage?”

“Do not make fun of me,” replied the tiger. “I know that I am neither beautiful nor powerful.”

“I’m not making fun of you,” said the lion. “You are surely the most beautiful and powerful tiger I have ever seen. I am only surprised to see you lying here when you are clearly strong enough to break out of that cage.”

“You really think I could break out of here?” asked the tiger.

“Quite easily, I should think,” replied the lion

The tiger was not so sure at first. She had been told so many times that she was a weak and pitiful creature.

But suddenly it seemed that she could feel energy and strength moving through her body. She began to pace back and forth in her cage and then, almost without thought, she leapt against the cage door and it flew open without any resistance.

Once outside she seemed dazed. “That cage didn’t even have a lock on it,” she said. “I spent so much of my life stuck in there and the door wasn’t even locked.

The lion looked at her with soft brown eyes and said, “Those kinds of traps don’t need locks, for it is the lies we believe in that keep us in our cages...and it is the truth that sets us free.” 

 

MEDITATION

“Your Love Rains Down on Us All” by Amy Johnson

 

Loving Creator, beyond our understanding yet closer than our breath,

breathe into us your love so that we may love ourselves and others as you do.

Help heal the fear, hate, and judgment that wound so many.

Help us know, deeply and certainly, that your love transcends all labels, all categories, all words.

Your love is. Your love rains down on us all.

Everyone is invited to your table.

We each bring our whole and broken parts and come together in your love, which binds us and heals us all.

Amen.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

No More Boxes, Part 1

(Original version published on April 8, 2015, at https://poeticjustice.typepad.com/diana_mclean/2015/04/no-more-boxes-part-1.html)

Boxes are finite. Their contents are neatly contained. They’re great for shipping and storing stuff, but not for living life.

We check boxes on forms all the time: employment status, income level, marital status, family size, medical history. But it’s less easy to check a box to describe who you love. At least, it is for some of us. And yet, sometimes we let people check a box for us, assign us an identity that isn’t ours.

It has been easy for me to let people assume that because I was married to my son's father, I'm "straight."

And I'm not.

I would have told you with complete certainty and utter sincerity that I was, right up until the first time I was seriously attracted to a woman (her mind, her body, all of who she is). I was 40, and this was new for me. I was perplexed by the idea that I could be raised in a liberal Unitarian Universalist family, and still only discover this significant fact about myself at that age. What reason, I wondered, would I have had to hide this from myself?

So I did what I do whenever confronted with something unfamiliar: I researched it. After finding online articles about women coming out as lesbian or bisexual later in life, I discovered the book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire by Lisa M. Diamond. As I read it, I had one “a-ha” moment after another.

Diamond, a professor of psychology and gender studies, conducted research with 100 women over the course of a decade. On the Kinsey Scale, which places people on a spectrum from “exclusively heterosexual” to “exclusively homosexual,” most of the women chose a point somewhere between those extremes. This fits with my general belief that anytime you put two human traits at opposite ends of a spectrum, relatively few people are all the way at one end or the other. Why shouldn’t sexuality be the same?

Reading Diamond’s book, I recognized that it was, in fact, possible that I had not deceived myself, but instead had actually changed, had shifted my location on the Kinsey scale, for lack of a more poetic way to put it. It explains why the gender(s) I am attracted to has not been static over my lifetime. For many years, my experience of my sexual orientation was that I was a heterosexual woman. And then, it wasn’t.

I'm not saying that I've secretly been a lesbian all this time and my relationships with men were somehow fake or less-than or deceptive. They weren't. That isn't what this means, at all.

The bottom line isn't about past relationships. It's this: my next partner, should I have one, could be of any gender.

It has been easy to stay under the radar on this, because I'm currently happily unpartnered. Not in the closet, exactly--I came out to my parents and some trusted friends--but under the radar. My "Midwestern Modest" upbringing means that I'm inclined to think that because I'm not in a relationship, there's no need for anyone other than my closest circle to know anything about who I’m attracted to.

I've let it slide when people said things like this comment from a former coworker: "Well, since you were married, at least we know if we're going to set you up, it should be with a man." My response was something about not wanting to be set up at all. That was true, but avoided the issue.

The problem with that avoidance is that if I don’t say anything--don’t come out as anything other than hetero--until there's "something to tell" (a specific relationship to announce), then there are a couple of potentially really challenging possibilities.

First, I worry about what could happen at any church I serve as a minister. Unless my sexual orientation came up during the ministerial search process, it’s likely that members of the church would just assume I'm straight, as so many people do. If I later reveal a serious relationship with a woman or non-binary person, there could be some shock, some anxiety about what this means for the church (for example, a fear that I’d become a one-topic preacher, focused only on justice issues related to gender and sexuality), and possibly some anger at being deceived--even though I wouldn’t have intentionally deceived anyone.

Second, it puts an awful lot of pressure on any future partner. If that partner is a woman or non-binary person, people who have only ever seen me as straight would assume this was a change the new partner caused, thinking (incorrectly) that someone can be “converted" to a different sexual orientation. That’s hardly a fair thing to do to someone you love.

While any such partner is purely hypothetical, my calling to ministry is not. A friend and colleague of mine, Rev. Dawn Fortune, recently shared with me a paper about how clergy being in the closet impacts those to whom they minister. Among other things, Dawn said, “…looking back from the safe distance of decades, we now know how vitally important it is for leaders of all kinds to come out of the closet, not only to stop living a secret existence, but to offer profound public witness to those who still suffer from cultural shame and marginalization because of their identities as LGBT people.”

And this: “…the message sent by clergy who remain closeted is the same as any secret-keeping: this part of my life is shameful or wrong and I don’t want people to know. Visibility saves lives, and as clergy, it is our moral imperative to live authentically.”

If I remain silent, what does that do to the people I minister to? It doesn’t silence them, because they don’t know the choice I’m making. But it doesn’t help them find their voices, either. It doesn’t allow me to be among those who say, “It’s okay. I’ve been there. Look at me—I’m out, and I’m glad, and my life is good.”

I’ve clearly chosen to stay silent before, to just let people make assumptions and not bother to correct them. So what’s different now?

The first time I felt really uncomfortable with my choice to remain silent was the first time my religious leadership felt compromised by that silence. For the last nine years, Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Boulder-Denver area have held a “Standing on the Side of Love” worship service on the steps of the capitol building in Denver. This service has focused on LGBTQIA rights, including marriage equality and gender identity and expression.

The first time I attended that service, I had to make an unexpected choice. In the service, those who identify as LGBTQIA were invited to stand and receive a blessing. Because I wasn’t out and wasn’t ready to make that decision in that moment, I remained seated. It made me uncomfortable. It made me feel ashamed…not of who I am, but of not being willing to literally stand up and be seen as who I am.

I actually had at least one good reason not to stand up that day. I was with my son, who was ten years old at the time, and I wasn’t out to him yet. When we got home that day, we talked about it, and I explained that I had wanted to stand up, wanted to be one of the people brave enough to do that, but couldn’t because that wasn’t the right way for him to learn that about me.

He was unfazed by the discussion, and said he would have been surprised but otherwise fine with me standing up. But unless I’m fully out, every time I’m in a situation like that, I have to think about who’s there, who might see me, who might learn in that moment that their assumptions about me were incorrect, and what negative ramifications that might have.

I also think about the positive ramifications it might have. What difference might it make in my ministry if instead of people assuming I’m a straight ally to the LGBTQIA community, they understand that I’m a member of it?

Who might see me, and know that there are people like them serving as clergy, in a faith tradition that honors the inherent worth and dignity of all people? That there are people like them raising happy, healthy children? Who might learn that their assumptions about me were incorrect, and take from that a broader lesson about assuming who people are?

These are all important considerations. But neither a theoretical future relationship nor my career in ministry are the most important reason for writing this, or for publishing it.

The most important reason is this: continuing to be silent feels, for the first time, like I am actively hiding part of who I am. Unlike the moment of remaining seated at the Standing on the Side of Love service, this is an ongoing act of hiding, and the internal pressure I feel about it is increasing. The metaphor of “the closet” is making sense in a visceral way it didn’t before.

Until this February, when many of my fellow Unitarian Universalist bloggers participated in a #SexUUality blog project, I thought that I was fine keeping this to myself and my closest circle for now. I thought it wasn’t anyone’s business.

The explanatory paragraph we all put into our #SexUUality blog posts included this statement: “Unitarian Universalists have a long history of courage in tackling issues around human sexuality—from campaigning for human rights, to pioneering innovative work in the Our Whole Lives sexuality curriculum.”

I wanted so much to have the courage to publish this post back then. I wrote the first version of it in February, but after reflection (and input from a few trusted colleagues), I knew that I wasn’t ready yet. So I wrote about another topic instead.

I had to do a lot of thinking before I could publish this: thinking about who needed to hear this from me personally before it was in public space. Thinking about how much to say, and what to leave out, or leave for another time.

Sometimes, in a moment of anxiety, I’d revert back to my old thought patterns: It’s no one’s business. It’s too private to put on a blog. It’s not the kind of thing I should be talking about publicly. All of which is a defensive mechanism, as thinking so often is.

But now, alongside all that thinking, there’s a feeling.

A feeling that might best be described as a yearning to be seen. To be seen for myself, and not for some more societally acceptable version of who that might be.

Who I might be.

Waiting a bit longer was the right decision, just as not standing up at the Standing on the Side of Love service until I’d talked to my son was the right decision. Still, it bothered me in February, and has continued to bother me. Not just because I missed out on this post being part of the #SexUUality project, though I did have a pang of regret about that. It bothered me because I felt invisible, even inauthentic.

I felt “in the closet” instead of “under the radar.”

People who are claustrophobic know what it is to be uncomfortable in an enclosed space. Being closeted induces a kind of emotional claustrophobia, which stifles and silences the soul just as a physical closet traps the body. Human beings are not meant to be kept in small boxes.

So. Here I am, coming out.

Finally.

 

No More Boxes, Part 2: The Problem with Labels

(Original version published May 1, 2015 at https://poeticjustice.typepad.com/diana_mclean/2015/04/no-more-boxes-part-2-the-problem-with-labels-1.html )

 

The only labels people should wear are the ones they choose for themselves.

In No More Boxes, Part 1, you may have noticed that while I specifically rejected a few labels (straight, lesbian) I didn't give you a new label to apply to me. That's because, generally speaking, I don't love labels. They're boxes that not only define us (often inaccurately or at least in a too-limited way) but also separate us.

Think about it for a minute:

Democrat/Republican

citizen/immigrant

white/black/brown

male/female/genderqueer/trans*

rich/poor

And this week in Baltimore, black and brown people are being called names like "thug" and "rioter" and "looter" and "criminal" in situations where white people might be labeled "protestor" or "activist" instead.

All those labels create an "us" and a "them." I don't really want to place myself in either of those camps, personally. I want us ALL to be "us." I recognize that being able to accept or reject labels, however, is a privilege. Labeling often happens without our input or control, especially when the labels are connected to something visible, including skin color.

Now, I'm not saying every label is bad. There are a few labels I wear proudly: mother. Unitarian Universalist. Poet. Minister-in-formation. But I choose those for myself, and I don't see them as superior to child-free, to Jew or Muslim or Christian, to mathematician, to plumber-in-training. They just fit me.

When it comes to sexuality, though, I honestly haven't yet found a label that really works for me. Maybe because I'm still letting go of the old one--"straight"--and maybe because there isn't a choice that feels quite like me to me.

A year or two ago, I would have said the best choice was probably “bisexual,” though I only ever accepted that very grudgingly, for a lot of reasons that mostly had to do with stereotypes rather than reality.

Now, if I had to choose, I'd probably go with "queer," but I'm just old enough to remember when "queer" was widely used as a derogatory term, and I haven't yet fully reclaimed it (for myself) from those implications, though I applaud those who have.

So what's left after I rule out the most common options? The best label I've found for myself is "fluid", which comes out of the book I mentioned in Part 1, Sexual Fluidity by Lisa Diamond. But it's not a widely used term, and like many of us, I don't particularly relish a label that requires me to have to teach people what it means.

That's one of the big problems I have with labels--the very need or desire to label others means that there is a constant need for those of us outside the mainstream (or rather, outside what society sees as "typical") to have to explain not only what labels we choose for ourselves, but what they mean. And it can be exhausting.

One of the best responses I got to my Part 1 post was from my friend Diana Anderson, who said on Facebook, "The only thing that makes me feel sad about this blog post is that we still live in a world where we have labels (or boxes) for sexuality. Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could all just love who we love and not feel any shame, or questioning, or even needing to come out because love was just love? That is my dream for the future, that no one need be labeled gay, straight, bi, trans, celibate, monogamous, polyamorous, etc."

All I can add to that is a resounding, "Amen."

Postscript, January 3, 2018

 A lot has shifted since I first published those blog posts. I’ve made a few changes in this version of those posts, because my own understanding of gender identities and sexual orientations has continued to grow. I’m uncomfortable now with the ableism in the use of standing both as a metaphor (Standing on the Side of Love) and as the way people were invited to identify themselves as LGBTQIA to receive a blessing. (My hope is that although I don’t remember it, a more inclusive option for participation was also offered.) 

I’m now an ordained minister. I was open about my identity (which I now fairly comfortably call “queer”) during the search for a congregation to serve. When I was called to serve this congregation, I was still happily single. By the end of the first year, I began dating another woman who is also a Unitarian Universalist minister, and we are now in a committed partnership. The congregation I serve seems to have had no negative reaction to that change. It’s impossible to know how much of that is because I was already out. 

Another shift is that now that I’ve been out for a few years, it’s clear to me (as it has been to many before me--I was just slow learning it for myself) that “coming out” is a lifelong process, not something that was done after I published those blog posts in 2015. I don’t visually present to a lot of people as “queer” (whatever they think that’s supposed to look like), and so I still get a lot of people making assumptions that I am straight. Even my beloved, when I first began flirting with her, thought I was straight (and thus, clearly not flirting) until one of her close friends did a quick search online and discovered that I am openly queer. 

Despite those continued incorrect assumptions and the awkwardness they sometimes lead to, I’m proud to be among those who can, indeed say, “It’s okay. I’ve been there. Look at me—I’m out, and I’m glad, and my life is good.” 

 

HYMN # 1014 Answering the Call of Love **

** The Composer has asked that the lyrics be changed to Answering the Call of Love in the chorus, to be more intentional and to embrace those of different abilities.  

 

BENEDICTION
#698, by Wayne B. Arnason, in Singing the Living Tradition

 

Take courage friends.

The way is often hard, the path is never clear,

And the stakes are very high.

Take courage.

For deep down, there is another truth:

You are not alone