Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mom always said: "As the seedling is bent, the tree is inclined"

It's funny to think about your roots.

During Feminist Theologies this week, we talked about how gay / lesbian theology has its roots in liberation theology.  Naturally, I did it backwards - my gay / lesbian theology led me to becoming a liberation theologian.  It got me wondering about my roots, about how who I am and how I was raised made what I believe today.

I think that the bulk of my theological commitments can be traced back to the odd dialectic of growing up a Christian and a lesbian.

Growing up lesbian meant that my childhood was marked by a sense of being alienatingly "different", and my teenage years filled with deep senses of despair, dread, and exclusion.  It was not an enjoyable process to come to an understanding of myself in the midst of national and global debates about whether "homosexuals" were legitimate human beings with rights and privileges and whatnot.  At sixteen, I came out of the closet and into a minefield.

Growing up Christian meant that the timeline of my childhood was marked by the liturgical calendar and my imagination was filled with Bible stories.  I enjoyed being part of the church and was invited to share my gifts in accordance with the needs and desires of my home congregation.  Being Christian, for me, is a two-part experience - first, that I was brought to church by an intentional and hopeful mother and taught by good and loving Christians, and second, that I had a personal understanding of the meaning of Jesus Christ's life and death and a personal experience of G-d's merciful love for me and of the movement of the Spirit.

That personal experience of G-d is what kept me a Christian when other things (including my life as a lesbian) made me want to walk away.  There have been many, many thin moments in my life, when the presence of G-d has shown clearly through, when the Spirit has blown in my ear and my heart.  Some of those moments were beautifully nurtured by faith communities - Teens Encounter Christ comes to mind - and some of those moments were entirely random and spontaneous.  All of these moments added up to a sum total of an understanding of the realness and nearness of G-d.  So growing up Christian and having these experiences made my core a Christian - meant that no matter how much other Christians spat on me (metaphorically), no matter how much the church had ruined the world, I could not stop being a Christian.

And growing up Christian and lesbian meant that I required a good biblical hermeneutic.  When I walked out of an anti-gay sermon when I was seventeen, it wasn't because the lesbian in me was turning her back on the word of G-d, but because Jesus had sat down inside me, right next to my heart, and said, "Girlfriend, this shit is bananas."  I required a model of interpretation that allowed for that.  This was one of the first things that attracted me to Martin Luther - that he had laid out broadly-applicable principles for the reading and interpretation of Scripture.  I had been searching for an explicit definition of the meaning and purpose of the Bible, and found it in Lutheran theology - in law and gospel, and in the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Word of G-d and the Bible as testimony to and cradle for that revelation.

Growing up Christian and lesbian also meant that I was acutely aware of being an outsider - which awakened my attention to other "outsiders".  I don't like to talk about being "marginalized," because I was raised white, well-off, well-parented and well-educated in the suburbs of the Midwest - that's a pretty privileged knapsack - but I have to be honest that I was also born female and lesbian and therefore there are certain decks that are stacked against me, especially in the church.

So a liberating G-d, a LORD who saves the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, a messiah who walks among us and shattered social mores and religious rules to bring the message of the kingdom, a Spirit who descends without distinction on Jews and Gentiles alike... those stories are saving for me.  They liberate my heart from all the pain and burdens laid upon me by my brothers and sisters in Christ who have failed to comprehend and demonstrate the meaning of G-d's love.  Hearing these stories as salvific not only for my mortal soul but for my life here, on earth, now.  So when I learned about liberation theology, about G-d's "preferential option for the poor" ... it fit perfectly with my life as a Christian and a lesbian.

So now I'm the total embodiment of a bleeding-heart liberal Christian, whose heart aches and stomach churns with every manifest injustice and pain in the world (and boy, are there many), because as a hurt little girl who felt alone in the world, I learned that there was a G-d who had a deep and abiding interest in the growth of beauty and love on the earth.  I bought into that wholeheartedly, and I still do.  These two things - being a lesbian, and being a Christian - are my core.  Everything gets read through this.  I will walk out on bad sermons, but I don't know that I could ever walk out on the church.

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