I spent most of the last few days at the Making Room for All national conference, 2013. If you are not familiar, the mission of Room for All is to support, educate and advocate for the welcome and full affirmation of people of all sexual identities and gender expressions in the Reformed Church in America.
For me this was a time of seeing many friends I do not often see. Some of these friends I went to seminary with; and they are spread out across the country, serving at various churches. Many of them, I met two years ago at the last annual RfA conference. I also made many new friends this weekend. This includes friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or otherwise queer as well as many straight allies. It was a wonderful time of worship, fellowship, learning, wrestling, praying and playing. It all culminated in worshiping God and celebrating Communion together Saturday morning.
I am still processing much of this weekend. I will probably be better able to tell you what I learned a week, a month or a year from now. But right now I can tell you that two reoccurring themes for me this weekend were this: The desperate need for me to be more graceful in my conversations with Christians who disagree with me about the inclusion of LGBT folks in the church or marriage equality or really any other subject. And secondly, I felt God speaking directly to my heart that for me this will require a lot of integration. I somehow need to better incorporate the language of my evangelical and charismatic youth with the more progressive faith I have grown into in adulthood. In order for this integration to happen I also need to reconcile myself with both the pain and the joy of the past. The joy will be the harder part.
See when someone dies we often immediately make them a saint in our minds and don’t give ourselves time to integrate our memories, our inevitable experiences of affection and enmity with the loved one we are mourning. Similarly, when a part of us dies, we all to often demonize those who have hurt us, sometimes along with anyone else who might remind us of the persons who have hurt us. We cannot heal, we cannot build bridges and allow people who are quite different than us to bring any positive or meaningful presence into our life if we have convinced ourselves that “those kind of people” have only brought me sorrow. We must remember – if at all possible – the joy. Often those who have hurt us most (sometimes knowingly sometimes unknowingly) have also brought some measure of love or joy into our life, contributed at least something good and positive to our personal formation. How could they hurt us so if such was not the case? The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference.
I know that queer folk can be faithful and loving Christians. I know that women can make fantastic preachers. I know that Atheists and Muslims and Jews can be good and moral people (some who put me to shame). I know this because I have been witness to the Spirit of God moving in tremendous ways in the lives of my gay friends; and I’ve seen the way in which their relationships can be full of mutuality and nurturing and sustaining love. I have been moved to both praise and repentance by women preachers. I have had deep and meaningful conversations with people of other faiths and people of no faith – people with whom I have significant disagreements about the meaning of life, the person of Jesus or ultimate reality – but who have nonetheless invited me to better love God and my neighbor.
What I need to do to make Room for All is invite back into my life people who might dismiss me out of hand for saying any one of these things. I need to make room, for those who would self identify as conservative evangelicals or perhaps even fundamentalist. I need to remember the joy that similar people (in some cases the exact same people) once brought into my life.
All weekend we were singing the song “There is Room for All” by Cheryl & Bruce Harding. Every time we would sing it, the refrain, “there is room for all in the shadow of God’s wing” would take me back: First to my days in a “Christian rock” band, sitting around with friends and listening to “Gold and Silver” by Stavesacre. Then I journeyed deeper still, into memories of my very Charismatic youth singing “Underneath your Wing” by Ron Luce. I still think a lot of music churned out by the Christian industrial complex is problematic for a number of reasons. But wow, Stavesacre were always such an amazing band with such creative, vulnerable and at times explosively emotional and moving songs. And I still think Ron Luce’s use of militant language in his Teen Mania conferences and song writing can be highly problematic. I am offended and have friends who were wounded by his “Fine Line” youth rally (attended by many people too young to even vote) held in support of California Proposition 8 a few years back. But he has written some songs that still – if I am honest – deeply move me. He still is my brother as much as I think he is wrong and as much as he would probably tell me I am wrong if we could sit down and have a chat.
So I thought of these two songs that I missed. But more than that, I miss the people I sang them with. I am sick of being angry at “them” that we cannot see eye to eye on issues that affect real live people: my people, my friends. I am sick of being angry at people who might remind me of “them” before I even get a chance to really know them, based off of what church they go to or what news sites or articles they “like” on Facebook.
I can only speak for myself: But when I was a young fundamentalist, I had no place in my heart for liberals, gays, non-Christians or even Episcopalians. It was too filled up with fear of the “other.” But unfortunately at times I have let fear be replaced by hurt and I’ve allowed hurt to turn into anger. If I am not careful, I could let anger turn into hate.
I am asking God to truly make Room for All in my heart. Make room in me again. Make room in me, maybe even for the first time.