As I previously reported, this morning began with an attempt to liberate the bathrooms of the General Convention. This effort was a peaceful attempt to protest the experience of being ostracized I nearly always experience when trying to use the restroom in public. I initiated this effort based on my formation as a campus peer minister, as an alum & current member of the Episcopal Service Corps, and as someone who has watched the internet continue to fill up with cries for young people to “come back” and “do something”. The more daring folks have even asked us to join them in proclaiming resurrection.
With all of this formation directing me to respond to injustice immediately, using any and all tools available, I was highly disappointed in the official response to this action. Actually highly disappointed doesn’t even begin to cover it. Devastated, wounded, torn, afraid, and devalued all come closer to the mark.
When I first began this endeavor I was terrified. I started in prayer*, then shakily hung the first sign, then the second. I kept looking over my shoulder, jumping at every sound. I had no idea what I would say if someone asked me what I was doing, but the mostly empty space of the convention center at 5:30am helped me grow more and more confident. After I have finished covering all of the bathroom signs I realized I had a ton of pages left over. So I started posting them in the stalls, so that those who didn’t stop at the sign might have an opportunity to see the reasons for this action in more depth. In one of the last places I stopped I heard two voices, one what this was about. I didn’t catch the full answer that was given, but I heard the word “access” and knew that this effort was already bearing fruit.
Satisfied with the work that had been done, and thankful for the rote prayers that helped me stay calm and focused, I moved on to stage 2, sharing this on social media. As I sat in the lobby sharing pictures, prayers and opening the conversation an official looking person came over and asked if I belonged to the convention. I thought it was weird, as by that time I wasn’t the only person sitting around working with electronics.
A few minutes later three people approached. Two looked like security from the conference center, and one was from the church. They told me that fliers were unacceptable unless they were handed out in-person in designated areas and that if I did this again after being told “no” I would be escorted from the premises. I said “ok” because I was intimidated and afraid. I didn’t know how to respond to the disappointment that rather than engaging with me on the topic I raised, an immediate safety and justice issue for our church, I was told that my voice was unimportant, and if I tried to speak in the language I know best, one I learned FROM THIS CHURCH, I would silenced entirely from this convention.
Aching and confused I started posting on twitter, sharing my fear, and the way I felt intimidated by the structure for trying to shed light on an injustice that constantly forms a barrier to my participation in our common life. As I turned around I say that my liberation signs had already been removed. Barely 30 minutes after I’d finished my work, with hardly enough time to celebrate the glorious moments when I could freely enter those spaces, they had been resegregated.
I did find one sign that had been missed, hidden by a door. I posted it to twitter, sharing the hope that I had in that one piece of paper. It didn’t last though, someone removed it, consigning the last of my action to a trash can (or I hope a recycle bin). With its removal my disappointment in our church was total. I spent months using my gifts of research and creativity, my ability to not only be conscious of injustice but to have the right words to speak of how we can end it.
Tired, shaken I headed over to meet the crew from EPF, as I had volunteered to help hand out Issues. But as I tried to tell them what happened, the tears started. They were cold, bitter tears of loss and hurt, of shame and embarrassment. They stayed present with me, covering my responsibilities so that I could rest, connect with my known supports and collect my thoughts.
A few hours later I thought I had things under control. Then someone asked how I was, and the story and the tears spilled over. Held by her love, her desire to act, to stand with me, started the process of healing. This process was interrupted by the opening Eucharist. As I skimmed the program I quickly recognized Eucharistic prayer B. Flinching at what I know was coming I asked myself if I belonged at the mass. Wouldn’t it make for far better self-care to leave? Could I handle the pain of hearing the church that first told me that I, for all of my oddities, is a child of God, revoke that truth as only “sons and daughters” were included in the eternal heritage of God.
Yet my formation at St. Hilda’s House bid me to stay. Worshiping together, no matter our differences is one of the things that shapes who we are. Thus I frantically flipped through my bag, looking for a way I could stay in worship, while still honoring my existence as a child of God who is neither a son or a daughter. I ended up creating a sign, securing it to my back with a carbineer clip.
My hands had shook as I wrote the words and affirmed in ink a statement that I had yet again begun to doubt. Yet as I saw them on the page I felt in my heart that they were true. I saw the briefest glimpse of a loving God that gave me a spirit to question, to act, and to embrace my complexities with a creativity to find ways to endure the abuse such spirits often encounter.
But the oppressions had only begun. I was approached by someone who was curious about what I was doing. Having centered my ministry in stories and truth I showed her. When she told me that she felt that it was “inappropriate” I wanted to scream. How can my declaration of myself as a child of God be seen as “inappropriate”? The injustice was that our Eucharistic prayer didn’t already contain that truth. I was taking a rough step to fix a major gap and for it was told it was “inappropriate”. When she reached to take the sign from me, I grabbed her hand. Tears streaming down my face I said no. No, you will not take this from me.
I ended up spending most of this morning in tears for one reason or another. By the end of the Eucharist I’d already encountered the same number of messages that I shouldn’t be here than I had during the entire day yesterday. I spent so long crying, that I had to confront my own shame about emotion. I realized that my tears were holy, a holy witness to the pain that we all would often prefer to shy away from.
From that place, and anchored by those who today chose to share my pain, who wept with me, held me close and who promised that my work would not be forgotten I found the strength to choose to stay. I will stay here in spite of the pain and the hurt because I believe that God’s promise that “you belong here” was meant not only for me, but for all who are being transformed by my words.
As I stay, and inspired by the Acts8 Moment’s reflection question “what thing do you like and value that you need to die to for the Church to find new life”, I would like to offer to you my security. I give to you the privilege of confident that I will always have place in this body, in order that you may be transformed by the harm that I have and am continuing to undergo within our services and common work. I give again this day, my life to God and to you my tears. I offer you these holy tears that testify that justice cannot be denied, that one day the stories of hope from this day will be all that is left, as those of hate and fear, control and oppression will fall away. As much as it tears me apart to find that my gift is sadness and stories of pain, I give them to you because we need to name the death within us in order that the light can drive it out. After much prayer, alone and surrounded by friend, held by those present at GC78 and those back home, I know I can offer this gift confidently because I act from my faith in Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word who lived and cried with us, and who stands here in the voices that aren’t heard by committees, or have the resources to campaign in the “approved” forms.
I am here to work for peace and justice in the church. If you would like to meet in person, if you are brave enough to hear what happens when we as a body fall short of our Lord, then I challenge you to reach out. I seek to build a ministry of mutual transformation through stories of death that always end in resurrection. You are all invited to join me in that journey by reaching out to me on Twitter @onservantswings and e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May we, the faithful body of God’s people, beloved, treasured, heirs and descendants of God’s holy promise, be ever mindful of the injustices we commit and those committed on our behalf. Let us always strive to listen to those who cry out from the margins, center the voices of those who don’t speak the “acceptable” language, and honor God’s work in making each and every one of us a critical part of their holy plan.
* O holy God, in the incarnation of your Son our Lord you made our flesh the instrument of your self-revelation: Give us a proper respect and reverence for our mortal bodies, of every shape, color and gender, keeping them clean and fair, whole and sound; that, glorifying you in them, we may confidently await our being clothed upon with spiritual bodies, when that which is mortal is transformed by life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.