This is a fabulous video featuring the voices of LGBTQ+ Mennonites. It was created by the Listening Church Project in conjunction with Mennonite Church Canada’s Being a Faithful Church process. The voices highlight the joy, pain, and hope of being LGBTQ+ in the Mennonite church. I thought I would share it here for people to hear some more stories!
Dear Willard Metzger and Mennonite Church Canada,
Over the past few months, I have come to embrace my identity as a queer Mennonite. However I am still in the process of coming out to my larger circle, and I trust you and the BFC committee to respect my confidentiality in this matter.
The Mennonite Church was essentially silent with regards to sexuality as I was growing up. In conversations with others, both heterosexual and LGBTQ+, I have found common threads of shame and confusion. For years I struggled with feelings of shame in relation to my sexuality, though I was too afraid and ill-informed to put words to my feelings. It was only after becoming more independent and moving away from home that I was able to acknowledge my identity, which is fortunate, as in high school, I would have felt trapped and unable to access resources. I wouldn’t have felt safe to come out. I am learning to love myself, and after months of prayer, conversation, and research, identify as queer—someone who falls outside of the hetero and cis identities society presupposes. My prayer is that the church can open itself to talk openly about sexuality, so that kids and teens today, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, won’t have to hide in shame or wait until they are adults to discover a beautiful aspect of themselves.
Thus, I write to you not to talk about some other group of people, outside of the Mennonite Church, theoretical and distant. I write to you as someone very much in love with the Mennonite Church, but also very frustrated with the narrative I see playing out. I am queer. I am the people of whom you speak. LGBTQ+ people are very much present within the Mennonite community, either currently (whether covertly or out in the open), or within the church’s history, having left because they do not feel welcomed. It is not acceptable to continue to silence our voices, ignore our pleas, and constrain or even ignore our identities. LGBTQ+ people are not some outside group, even if that is the place that has been allotted to us. It is not a matter of “the church” versus “those people.” We are the church! We are all the church, and we need to move away from oppressive social structures which erase the identities of some of our members and move to a place in which the church does not merely tolerate, but openly accepts, includes, and loves even its minority members.
I love the idea of the Mennonite Church. The belief in non-violence, active pacifism, reconciliation, love, and inclusion. But “everyone” needs to actually include everyone! Jesus didn’t rebuke or shun those on the margins. He rebuked those who rejected those on the margins, and sat down to eat with people in the minority. I am frustrated with the slowness of our church to realize the vision of the early church. Mennonites love reconciliation, but not among ourselves. We love to bring healing to other people, but we are scared to dialogue in our own churches and denomination. Mennonites don’t like to rock the boat; it is easier to let discontent and disagreement ferment under the surface until the rift becomes too great and we divide rather than mend. We need to actively practice reconciliation as a church.
An area where I see a failure to live out the fullest expression of Christ’s love is the Being a Faithful Church process and documentation. I call upon the BFC committee, and Mennonite Church Canada to consider the following concerns with an open heart:
- I am frustrated and saddened with the timidity of the proposal. I believed that the church was further along than to say “that we do not have an appetite to change the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” (BFC7:1). Many people, myself included, are placing their hope for a more inclusive future in this decision; many are thirsting for change. Several churches and individuals within our denomination celebrate the sanctity of covenanted and committed LGBTQ+ relationships, and believe that God’s blessing is not constricted to hetero-cis individuals. The current Confession of Faith does not represent these voices, and it is important that the wording in the document reflects that our church is not unified in the belief that “God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life” (Confession of Faith, Article 19).
- First of all, the church practices hypocrisy in applying this statement to the exclusion of LGBTQ+ marriages, but not to couples who divorce. I say this not to cast a value judgement on divorce, but to call out the inherent flaw in judging LGBTQ+ relationships more harshly than divorce.
- Secondly, sex and gender cannot be divided into the binary of “woman” and “man.” Some people are born intersex, or do not fulfill all the biologic and genetic criteria to fit one sex. Gender expression is a societal construct with no clear boundaries. Thus, to use binaries to define people erases the identities of many individuals.
- The document uses the phrase “same-sex attraction” to describe the experience and identity of LGBTQ+ individuals. This phrase does not accurately represent the LGBTQ+ community or their preferred words for identification.
- The phrase “same-sex attraction” was popularized by people in the ex-gay movement who wanted to remove LGBTQ+ identities and instead label people as suffering from the temptation or sin of same-sex attraction. The LGBTQ+ community should be addressed using their preferred identifiers, not with language that makes people outside these identities more comfortable.
- The phrase also suggests that LGBTQ+ individuals are all attracted to people of the same sex. As previously mentioned, sex and gender are fluid, and this phrasing ignores those who are attracted to multiple genders, or who do not identify within the gender binary. It also places emphasis on sexual identity, when LGBTQ+ people are much more than their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though the concern with Article 19 in the Confession of Faith deals with marriage, all members of the LGBTQ+ community should be welcomed to the church, regardless of marital status or identity.
I ask that the Church reconsider their commitment to the current wording in the Confession of Faith, and that the wording of the BFC documents be changed to reflect the diverse identities of the LGBTQ+ community, in a way that respects our preferred terms of identification.
The BFC process is only the most recent program of a thirty year process. The Mennonite Church has been talking about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church since 1986. It’s time to stop limiting our expression of God’s unlimited love and extend what has been freely given to all people! It is time for the church to start acting like the church! I urge you to consider the following points regarding the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ Mennonites:
- The Church needs to show God’s unlimited love to all instead of placing human limitations on that Love. This means making the church a safe place for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, or any other superficial characteristics.
- The Church needs to include all people as active members of the church, able to use their unique gifts and talents, and pursue calls to ministry. Personally, I have been encouraged many times to pursue pastoral ministry. Why should this change when my orientation is something other than “straight”? I have always been queer, even if it is only recently that I have been able to attach a specific word to my feelings. Thus, I have already preached as a queer person and been encouraged in that calling!
- The Church needs to work for healing and reconciliation where bonds were severed, societal assumptions were made, and proclamations made against LGBTQ+ people. Whether through explicit discrimination and judgement, or through complacent silence, Mennonites have caused the LGBTQ+ community harm and allowed that hurt to continue. Services of reconciliation and grieving of past harms could help to heal our Church communities.
- The Church needs to move forward with respect, engaging in conversation with LGBTQ+ individuals. Why is my discernment, and the discernment of other LGBTQ+ Christians, not valid at the same level as the voices which cry “sinner!”? Many of us have come from places of extreme pain, and have earnestly sought God’s guidance in this area of our lives. I understand and respect that many people have searched equally fervently, and come to a different conclusion. However, many voices have parroted what they have been told the right interpretation is, without actively discerning for themselves. Through careful discernment, people have come to varying conclusions. Why do we assume that one interpretation, based off of uncertain and widely debated translations of ancient Greek, is the right one, simply because it has the popular vote or has been touted in recent days? Jesus was a champion of minorities, and called out those who persecuted the outcasts. The church needs to hear the voices of minorities who have walked with Jesus and found a welcoming companion.
- Because we do not all agree, our documentation needs to at least reflect that we are a church in turmoil. Continuing to state that we believe in one definition of marriage excludes all members of the church—both LGBTQ+ and not—who do not hold this belief. As Jesus stood up for people on the margins of society, our words need to reflect the rights of the minority group.
- It does not just do to say, “We are a welcoming church.” We are not a homogenous group inviting in the outsider; many of our members are LGBTQ+. Thus we need to express that “We are a diverse community of people with a variety of backgrounds, identities, and orientations.” To ignore this is to cut people out of the church! We need to then be that community for all people, showing our faith through our love for all people. We all make up the body of Christ, and I encourage you to consider the following excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12, and to read the entire chapter at length: “19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this” (1 Corinthians 12:19-24). We need the entire body of Christ; not to sever a part of that body.
Mennonites believe that “[i]n individual and communal worship, the Holy Spirit is present, leading us deeper into the wisdom of God” (Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 18). In my faith journey, I have constantly struggled with the dissonance between literalism and interpretation, logic and faith, written word and Spirit. A close friend once told me that it is appropriate and healthy to approach faith, God, and Biblical interpretation from a logical perspective. However, she also emphasized that to rely solely on rational thought is to limit the ability of God to speak into our lives today. The Holy Spirit was sent to “guide [us] into all the truth” (John 16:13, NRSV), and it is only when we are open to the Spirit’s guidance, rather than repeating what we have been taught without question, that we can experience a growing and authentic faith.
I have cried out to God in my darkest hours, and felt God saying that I am loved. That I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a God whose “eyes beheld my unformed substance” (Psalm 139:14-16, NRSV). God created us with intention to be relational beings. God created us to love each other, and to love the One who is Love. Genesis says that it is not good for us to be alone, and that we seek partners to walk with us. How can we as humans limit a creative God who doesn’t make mistakes on what that love can look like? Science now supports the fact that sexual orientations and gender identities are inherent to at least some extent. I do not believe that a God who is Love would make something so core to a human’s identity, so integral to the way they express and experience love, in such a way that some people are predisposed to be excluded from that love if they desire a committed marital relationship. Many, many people have come to the same conclusion, and it is time for the church to celebrate all sexual orientations, gender identities, and relationships. We need to listen to the prophetic voices of our time which call the Church to reconsider and extend the Love of God as far as God extends it.
I am saddened and scared that a future relationship of myself or others may not be blessed by the church that I love. I am speaking out because I cannot be complacent any longer. I love and share many of the church’s beliefs, and seek to live in a way that follows Christ’s call in my life. Right now, that call is telling me to speak up and challenge the church’s discrimination. Jesus called out the Pharisees who cast judgement against those on the outside. Regardless of theological perspective on the sanctity of LGBTQ+ marriage, it makes no sense for the church to dwell on this one attribute above all others. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”—it would be wise for the church to consider Jesus’ words as we deal with our different perspectives.
It is scary for me to speak out. However, my personal comfort is less important than the rights of my LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ. I say the same thing to people who are uncomfortable with LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. Your personal comfort is not our concern; the rights of people on the fringes are. Many have discerned and feel the Mennonite Church is ready for change. It is time to embrace all people, and I plead with you to consider the many people the BFC decision affects. The pain can stop here; future generations can feel safe and celebrated. LGBTQ+ people are here to stay. We are the church. We will not be silent.
God, we pray for a hurting world; a hurting people.
We are so diverse
With many different identities and attractions
All created and loved by You.
We pray first for ourselves:
When misinformed prejudice
Threatens to destroy our love for ourselves
And blinds us to Your love,
When our shame and doubt overpower us,
When we are injured by the judgement of others
Or of ourselves,
Help us feel Your comfort, peace, and joy.
Help us love ourselves as You do, without judgement.
Help us find community
Where we can be supported and offer support to others.
We pray for the LGBTQ+ community:
When we experience condemnation
Or feel like our identities and gifts are not valued,
Strengthen us to stand secure in who we are.
Give us opportunities to serve and lead.
Guide us as we support each other.
Let our voices be heard,
So that one day there will be no need
For separate communities
Because all are welcome in the body of Christ.
We pray for the church:
We confess we have used Your name in the name of hatred.
We have not always shown love,
Or have failed to reach the needs of a hurting people.
Work in and through Your church to bring us to a place
Of love and understanding with our friends in Christ,
Remembering that we may not all agree,
But that we can all reflect your uninhibited love.
As we learn and grow in community
And as individuals,
Fill us with Your Spirit,
Leave us open to Your guidance,
And embrace us with Your grace
As we live love to those in pain
So that all may be renewed and find healing in Your Love.
I am a queer Christian who is still struggling with internalized shame to come to a point where I can love myself. My prayer focuses on love, and the importance of community to support LGBTQ+ persons in their journeys. I wanted to have space to pray for ourselves as individuals, because the journey of self-acceptance is often difficult for LGBTQ+ folks, and people who are not LGBTQ+ usually have their own things they struggle to accept about themselves. A supportive community is so important in this process, and while it is fantastic to have groups where we can be surrounded by others who understand, I long for a day when society reaches a point where all types of relationships (and singleness!) are celebrated, so that no one feels “abnormal” or is ostracised. This prayer could be used in a group where LGBTQ+ and allies are present, perhaps in a service of healing and reconciliation. It expresses longing, confession, and hope for a present and future with more love.
“Jesus… got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me’… He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you… Whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’” ~excerpts from John 13:1-20
“Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” These words by Richard Gillard are from one of my favourite* hymns, and have recurrently challenged me in my interactions with others.
The first part of the verse comes naturally to many Mennonites. From barn raisings to Mennonite Disaster Services, we love to help people; as Jesus was a servant to others, so shall we be. On the other hand, Mennonites can be stubbornly independent, actively working to not be a bother. The Protestant work ethic is in our blood. The second half of the verse is not so easy. Of course, this is a huge stereotype, but it is often accurate. It is much easier to serve than to be served. We may claim humility to explain our “selflessness,” but in fact, it requires much greater humility to accept help for oneself, and pride often stands in our way.
In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. I often find myself like Simon Peter in the above verses, adamantly refusing the assistance of others, believing myself unworthy of their assistance. However, after Jesus has washed their feet, he commands them to “wash one another’s feet.” He doesn’t say to only “Wash the feet of those who need help,” or “Wash the feet of the poor.” Jesus tells them to wash each other’s feet—to serve the others and accept help for themselves as well. As Mennonites, and as Christians, we strive to live as Jesus did. To walk in His way requires us to not see ourselves solely as servants, elevating ourselves as self-sufficient, but to have the grace to let others show God’s love to us. This also applies to our relationship with God, for when stretched too far, our love of action can prevent us from accepting God’s grace and love.
This refusal to accept help often transfers into my relationships with others. In many friendships, I have emotionally supported the other person, while not opening up myself. It is relatively easy—to a point—for me to support someone else. It takes considerably more strength, at first, for me to allow myself to be supported. I tell myself that people don’t care, that they have enough troubles of their own without my adding to the load. But the truth is, mutual sharing strengthens a friendship. My one friend recently commented in dismay, “You never tell me anything anymore!” I tried to shrug it off, though I knew it to be true. I was so caught up in helping her and listening to her, that my struggles hardly seemed worthy of attention. I didn’t want to worsen her pain by adding to it, but instead, I made her feel distanced from my life.
In some cases, fear of judgement prevents me from sharing. Though I try to remind myself that I would not be judging someone else for the same thing; that if they do judge me, I shouldn’t be investing too much into the relationship anyways; and that I would much rather my friends ask for help, rather than keeping their pain to themselves, I still tend to do just that. I hold everything in. I judge myself before they even have a chance to prove me wrong.
Where does this judgement come from? Throughout my life, I’ve built up a lot of self-hatred, fear, and shame. So much shame. These feelings have developed around a variety of factors, including my sexuality, body image, and a plethora of personal circumstances I won’t discuss here. All of this negativity directed towards myself convinces me that I am a burden to everybody around me. When people notice that something is off and try to help—”why are you scared of everything?”—”you should seek counselling”—”you don’t need to apologize so much!”—I brush them off and add my latest failure to be “normal” to my list of shame. Once I see myself as worthless, unloveable, awkward, and narcissistic for not being able to let it go, I am unable to accept the grace and love I feel I don’t deserve. I force myself into silence by the sheer power of self-doubt. Asking for help is nearly impossible.
Even when people come forward offering hospitality, I find it difficult to accept. I recently prayed for a chance to talk an individual I know, because I was hesitant to approach them directly. However, even when they explicitly extended an invitation, I panicked and turned them down. I lived for so many years training myself to be as private a person as possible. Think Elsa in Frozen: “Don’t let them in; don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal; don’t feel. Don’t let them know.” I love Disney, and cheesy as it may be, that line sums up my relationship with my emotions, sexuality, and other factors that contributed to the shame. I didn’t even want to let myself know! My tendency to hide from people continues to this day.
Of course, one can only hold ever-escalating emotions for so long until they turn into spontaneous midnight crying sessions on a bridge with your best friend. Which isn’t ideal, as you end up dumping years worth of emotions onto your friend, and concerned police officers come over to check in on you. You just wanted to go on a nice walk, and suddenly in an hour you’ve unloaded fifteen years worth of frustration, anger, and shame on your poor friend. Yet in reality, you’ve barely scraped the crust, much less the mantle.
Repressing things for that long also means that things take longer to deal with. Problems with simple fixes have become compounded under not-so-simple problems, and you end up figuring out many things the hard way. After sifting through years of convoluted crap, you finally acknowledge a detail of yourself that, had it not been hidden and tainted with so much negativity, could have been a relatively benign discovery twelve years ago. One’s sexuality, for example. Had I and the people around me been more open to conversations on sexuality; had I not been sneakily exposed to the idea that “homosexuality is wrong;” had society told children they might feel attracted to various genders and sexes, rather than perpetuating heteronormative images and assumptions, I might have figured things out at age eight, rather than age twenty.
I’ve over-apologized for years. Bump into a person—”sorry.” Bump into a table—”sorry.” “Stop apologizing!”—”sorry… Sorry!” Tonight it was the dishes dance: I’m using the sink to wash something that my housemates all use. My friend comes in wanting to wash a mug. “Sorry… sorry,” I sputter, awkwardly trying to move out of the way. She grabs some soap and heads to the other sink, reminding me not to apologize so much. “Sorr—” I was apologizing for being in the way while washing the house’s dishes. So essentially apologizing for fulfilling basic life tasks that in fact benefit the person I was apologizing to. Is this where my fear of being open has led me? To a place where my very existence becomes reason for apology? These types of apologies are a daily, sometimes hourly, occurrence.
Because of my self-shaming, I tend to doubt others’ sincerity. “Why would they care?” My mind mocks my emotions, telling me they are no big deal. Even writing this blog is difficult. I think it is important that people understand how people who struggle with anxiety experience life. The irrationality of its hold on our minds can be difficult to understand. At the same time, I don’t want to burden people with the words of yet another depressed writer. I recognize that this is ridiculous. I am not forcing anyone to read my writing, and people who are reading it are likely interested, or they would have stopped reading. Yet my mind still constantly doubts the legitimacy of this pursuit.
In this process of starting to come to terms with my sexuality, I have suddenly been forced to reach out to people as a tool of survival. God is using this unravelling of all the negative things I’ve told myself over the years to help me become more open with others, and more open to Him. My self-sufficiency and shame prevented me from fully forming relationships where I could be my truest self. Yet even as I learn to trust others as I trust myself, I continue to struggle. I remain closed off to my friends, though I am working towards openness. I’m willing to walk alongside them; I pray I can have the strength and grace to let them also walk with me.
*I have many, many favourite hymns—I’m Mennonite after all!—but the words in this one prove especially challenging. You can listen to it here.
Will you let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace
To let me be your servant too.
We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are trav’lers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping,
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven,
We shall find such harmony,
Born to all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony
Will you let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let me be your servant too.
~Richard Gillard, 1977
Smudge cream-coloured pages
As a flurry of words pour from her pen.
A pen filled not with mere ink
But with the ocean of her imagination.
Her thoughts fly ahead of her pen
In leaps and bounds
Too vast to contain
Swirling with imagery
And all the thoughts and sounds of the universe.
Then, they stop.
Dancing just out of reach
Refusing to be coaxed from their hiding places
In the burrows of her subconscious.
Timid, they come once again
An ebb and flow of creativity
Limited only by her mind and hand.
She creates a world
Birthing it up from the rubble of shattered dreams
Inspired by misty mornings
And the laughter of children.
Writing of the longings, loves,
Fantasies, and fears of her heart.
Her soul bleeding into the page
Midnight ink on soft ivory.
Pen thrumming with the rhythm of life.
She sits, legs curled
In a blanket cocoon
While golden hair gleams silver
In the light of the moon.
Falling as a curtain
Past eyes which gleam and glow
As she reads of life, and love, and dreams
And evening walks through falling snow.
Her mind is not in this world
For enchantment from the start
Has trapped her ‘tween the pages
Of the books which hold her heart.
It crushes down
A dark, deep, menacing force.
My tears stream silent
With silent gasps of breath the only breeze
Trying to hold in the hurt
Sound is a betrayal of emotion I cannot bear
This pain is secret
Held in the pit of my stomach
Tearing through my vision
Screaming through my mind in unspoken anguish.
No words can contain this sorrow.
I lie there as pools bubble up, stinging my eyes.
But they sting less than my heart.
Salt tinged lips
I bear the pain in silence.
I cannot share this pain
The shame is too much to bear
My self-judgement rains down
And projects itself as the judgement of others.
Besides, that would be admitting weakness
Or so I tell myself.
I want to be strong.
I will be strong.
I don’t want my burden to be a burden to others.
So I hold it in.
Yet the beast claws and tears at my heart
Reminding me that it is ever-present
Though sometimes dormant.
Waiting for the right opportunity to claw its way to the surface
And leave me breathless and broken.
Plotting ways to turn my own conscious in on itself
So it doesn’t have to do the dirty work.
Sometimes after it slinks away
I think that it has gone forever.
I tell myself,
“How silly you were to think that it controlled you.
How could you let it do that?
See, life’s not so bad!
You’re happy now.
You were just tricking yourself before.
The pain was all in your head.”
But it turns out those words are just it speaking
Using my voice in its mockery.
A double-edged sword.
A hidden blow.
It was lying.
Lying by the deepest, darkest pools of my subconscious
The places I don’t like to go because it’s cold and eerie.
Lurking in the shadows of my darkest nights.
Lying about the fact that it was gone
That sunnier days had sent it scurrying
Off to some crack in the earth.
It never left.
It tricked me.
Because it comes back later.
Long after I think it has vanished
After I begin to imagine that maybe it was never there at all.
After my fear has turned to relief
And I think, “Now I’ll live life again!”
It comes back.
So I must battle this creature
This unseen monster which haunts the hallows of my heart.
Because this battle for my heart
Is not between the dragon and a prince—
Like a fairy tale told to children—
But the dragon and myself.
I will fight for my own heart.
Come into my secret garden
Where the door is often barred.
Hidden under lock and key
Unless the gate is left ajar.
Tangled vines and mossy curtains
One must brave to see inside.
But once within, all is revealed
To those whose hearts are open wide.
Hidden beauty, regal splendour
Offered up to those who dare
To come into my secret garden
and find all that it has to share.
Weary traveller come and rest
And sit beneath welcoming shade
Whilst I tell you of memories
That do so often seem to fade.
Enter as a dear old friend
Hopes and dreams shared from the start
And come into my secret garden—
The hidden garden of my heart.
Will people love me less if they know who I really am?
I hide behind so many facades
This is the masquerade
Do I even know what is truly me
Or is it hidden beneath layers of deception
And created personalities?
The mask falls off.
I try to contain myself but I burst out awkward
Laughter too loud, stories too long.
I feel obnoxious and want to stop—
But I can’t.
My tongue carried away by a train of sound
Brakes failing until the train grinds to a halt
Or crashes in an awkward disarray.
I feel your judgement.
When you whisper, do you whisper about me?
You talk about your weekend, the cute guy you met
But I can’t hear your words
So I project my self-judgement into your whispers
And with every glance and giggle I feel the scorn I cast upon myself.
The mask goes on.
I’m surrounded by a thousand Aphrodites
A thousand Adonises
Turned in my mind’s eye into a pack of wolves
Hungry for my confidence and dignity.
Every glance, word, and gesture analyzed—
Yours and mine
To build up my defenses
Hone my image and
Keep myself behind the mask.
I feel so awkward as I struggle to present myself as perfect.
I feel like an elephant
Like I’ve expanded to fill the entire room.
Every eye must be on me
I feel the stares prickle across my cheeks
A thousand flaming arrows.
Nothing is out of the ordinary to you
But I create a world where I am singled out for inspection.
Paraded by the unseeing eyes that I feel as lasers
Inspecting all my layers
Dissecting every fault.
My heart closes, a hidden vault.
This is not who I really am, but it is who I see.
I imagine myself a monster
Until I believe the lie.
If people saw me as I see myself, would they love me any less?
“…the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” ~Luke 1:78-79
I’ve struggled with a lot of shame throughout life. However, in the last month or so, as I have finally put a name to one aspect of that shame, my interaction with that part of myself has changed. I am working to love myself as God loves with his infinite love, though this is easier said than done.
The sermon this morning was on mercy and how the love of God frees us from chains. One line in particular spoke to my feelings of shame, frustration, and sorrow: “God incarnate is not a concept, but a commitment to the human experience and all its fullness. God comes for our whole relational, spiritual, emotional, creative, intellectual, and physical selves. There is no hidden feeling of shame God’s mercy doesn’t want to touch. No regret, no sorrow, no sin named by you or by others who think they know best.”
This morning’s church service and the study afterwards were very meaningful to me. For the past month and a half, the adult Sunday school at my church has been working through Mennonite Church Canada’s “Being a Faithful Church” process, which is a series of conversations leading to a decision on an official stance on LGBTQ+ members and the church. Most of the people in my church are very affirming, though there are voices on all sides.
During the Sunday school conversation, my pastor (who I’ve been able to tell is affirming, but I wanted to test the waters a bit more) lay everything out. After addressing congregational concerns, she proposed that we draft a specific statement of affirmation—that all are welcome, so that no one has to wonder whether they are. Again, the response was mostly positive. Praise God! I pray that the church would be able to feel God guiding our feet in the way of peace as the discernment process progresses.
After hearing how she responded to people’s concerns and facillitated the conversations, I have asked my pastor to set up a meeting. I’ve decided to come out to her, as I am really in need of some guidance and in-person support. All-in-all, it has been a blessed day.
The title of this post comes from this taizé hymn: “Our darkness is never darkness in Your sight. The deepest night is clear as the daylight.” God loves us so much! This time of trial will eventually pass; His love remains forever. In His light, our sorrow can become joy; our shame, love.
You can listen to it here.