Monday, December 6, 2010

I wept in chapel today.

Not the kind of weeping that I'm used to - the tears of joy and love at the unexpected and imperfect beauty of a congregation together, or the tears of self-actualization as I begin to unwrap a tiny part of myself that needed to hear the Gospel and hadn't yet been opened.

No, I wept because there was a little scared seventeen-year-old girl inside me throwing an absolute shit fit.

Backing up:  today, Marie preached in chapel, and organized the worship.  Marie is one of my favorite people.  We're the same age and graduated from Olaf together; we shared religion classes, and chapel worship, and student congregation council meetings.  Marie was and is one of the clearest manifestations of the best things about being Lutheran.  She's always been an advocate for "people like me" and I trust her completely.

And the worship she put together was spectacular.  She integrated a great, student-led worship band, and had a PowerPoint presentation to accompany her sermon.  This is new stuff for Luther Seminary daily chapel; we are pretty old-school as far as worship goes, sticking to the hymnal almost exclusively.  And I was really excited for it, because I think that the old-school style is horrifically overused and that we're getting the serious short end of the stick in our worship training because of it.

But all this did not quiet down the scared little girl inside me.

Scared little girl started squirming when the lesson was read from next to the altar instead of directly at the pulpit.

Scared little girl started kicking when the sermon was done sans manuscript and from the area around the altar (again, instead of the pulpit).

Scared little girl went into full-on fight-or-flight panic mode when the PowerPoint was turned on.

Because scared little seventeen-year-old girl was remembering every single church service with praise and worship, and a message preached from the floor, and Scripture read from PowerPoints - every single service like this that has been bookended by the reminder that "people like me" are not welcome.  That we are an abomination.  That we are condemned.

When the Prayers of the People were done over improved keyboard, with "Take Me As I Am" as the response, the scared little girl inside me screamed.  I tried to calm her, tried to tell her we were safe and no one was going to cast us out, but the prayers underlaid with music beat against her like fundamentalist fists.  I  wrapped my arms around myself and tried to keep it together, tried to sniffle as if I had a cold and not as if tears were covering my wretched face.  Scared little girl wanted to run, needed to get out, but we were in a middle pew with people on both sides - there was no way to leave without notice.

I felt every emotion just like I felt them when I was seventeen and very broken and lost.  So I was crying too; crying because I could not calm the scared little girl inside me, and crying because she is still inside me.  Much as I want to believe that the wounds of condemnation have been healed over by the grace of Christ and the love shown to me by so many of His children, they are not forever gone.  They are still there.  The scared little girl is still inside me, and still scared, and still ready to run.

This is why I think that worship today was horrible  and why it is essential.

I am fighting the scared little seventeen-year-old Emmy whenever a drum set accompanies the hymns or a screen drops behind the altar.  I stay far away from any church that uses praise and worship music - because so, so, so often, this music is a harbinger of a theology that will tell me to curse G-d and die, for this life I love and the woman I cherish is worthless.

And I want it.

I went to Selah, the Sunday night worship and praise service, for three years at Olaf.  For the first two years I did not feel unsafe.  Catherine led worship, and Catherine was a friend who I trusted.  There was no condemnation, no hatred, no abomination, only the beauty of the music.  Then leadership changed, and the self-centered music began to come in, and Christus Victor reigned supreme.  Whether this indicated a change in theology or only demonstrated what had always been believed, I do not know.  But I stopped going.

I long now for the beauty of Selah, for those moments of freedom and joy and celebration.  I want again to sing praise and worship music - but there is nowhere safe.  So, so, so often it is a symbol of a theology that will gleefully destroy me and my queer brothers and sisters in the name of the idolatry of fundamentalism.  I do not seek it out.

But here at Luther, I would be safe.  I would be safe to sing those songs again, and to learn new ones, because I stand in the company of Marie, and Jamie, and Kayla, and Kim, and so many others who know who and what I am and yet stand next to me.  I must learn these songs - we all must - because so many of them are beautiful and good, but also because so many Lutheran churches hunger for a life-giving service that can be made from this music.  How are we to know how to select praise and worship music, and to incorporate it into our Lutheran worship, if it is never played in our own house of worship?  This is the only place now that I am safe to learn these songs.

May G-d soothe the scared little girl inside me, and may she learn to sing again.  Amen.

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