I spent a VERY full day in Nashville–so many interesting and stimulating conversations with folks from the Our Family Matters Conference as well as with my good friend Scott who lives near by and Cary from Belfast, who is in the States for a few months. I got to spend LOADS of wonderful time with Christine Bakke and even took an diversion with her to the Opryland Hotel.
The conference has been well organized and well publicized with news stories on two local TV stations, in the local NPR radio broadcast and in the gay press. The organizers have brought together an impressive group of speakers and performers with several lesbian presenters. I find this especially refreshing as I want to hear more about the experience of lesbians at these kind of events. Sadly the trans presence so far has been non-existent. Trans issues came up on Wednesday night during the film series, but it seems clear that this is a new topic for even the folks who spoke about it. Funny how some LGB folks who have experienced confusion and rejection from the straight church struggle to understand and fully include transgender folks.
A major topic of this conference revolves around the experience of Christians who also happen to be lesbian, bisexual or gay. Of course this issue affects many people in and out of the church both LGB and straight, but I find I grow weary of the theme. For me my faith and my Christian identity informs most things I do and how I do them. I am a Christ-centered Quaker. To deny the Christian part of me would be to live with a lack of integrity, but I think the topic wearies me because my faith and sexuality and personality have become more and more integrated in me through the past few years. I need less and less words to describe my faith as I live it.
I also grow weary of what feels to me tired cultural representations of the Christian faith. As someone who experienced both heaven and hell in a variety of Christian churches (Roman Catholic to Fundamentalist to Evangelical to Charismatic to Pentecostal Holiness to Anglican) I find that I feel ‘triggered’ by certain songs, rituals, architecture and even clerical syntax.
An element of a service I attend can transport me to another church in another time of my life. Even with some pleasant memories associated with these liturgical sense memories, I find mostly negative, tragic and tortured images, remembrances and emotions. Perhaps it is a form of religious PTSD–Church inspired Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When I sit in the silence and stillness of Quaker meeting for worship, it reminds me of no other religious experience I previously encountered. It brings up no regrets, no images of people who once were dear to me and who are now strangers. I can experience the divine without dismal echoes from my past distracting me from listening to God and others.
For some folks who have experienced abuse at the hands of church leaders or the negative effects of sitting under a load of oppressive teachings designed to shut off critical thinking and creative expression, I believe choosing to no longer attend religious services designed like their previously abusive ones represents a healthy outcome. Even if the theology of a new place of worship is more progressive and affirming, the same cultural presentation of the service (same musical styles, liturgy, architecture, language, etc) can prove counter-productive for many people.
I know that some people long for worship like they used to know it. Perhaps they have mostly fond memories of their times in these churches, or they have been able to reclaim their religious culture expression into a new positive setting. For my part, I cannot sit in a service, no matter how affirming, if it sounds and acts and looks too much like the church cultures I that kept me in a Biblically Induced Coma. No matter what good I received from them, over time, they sucked the life out of me.
I marvel that seemingly progressive “gay churches” fall back to the same old methods and music and styles of religious culture. I wonder sometimes we mistake nostalgia for a moving of the Spirit. We need new wine in new wine skins.