Many of us went to Portland in hopes of a new Pentecost, a Church re-birth, a reversal of Babel…and we came away trusting that the place where the wild wind of the Spirit swept through was in our witness as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer people and allies–never in the Rules of Robert of the institutional legislative body. We were fiery in our disruption; we had tongues that were taped shut in symbol of our silencing; our eyes were red as we lined the bar, prepared to take to the plenary floor to make ourselves visible.
I sometimes found myself watching from the next room on a big screen, coordinating the RMN booth in the exhibit hall. Thinking and praying about Pentecost, I got my Bible out and started re-reading the familiar Acts story with the long list of those who show up that day when “each hears in their own language.” And then I started to count the languages we “spoke” at the exhibit booth.
The language of French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Swedish (haltingly): occasionally we had a translator, but mostly I tried to use words like “no discrimination” or “justice” to watch for a look of understanding from the person for whom English was not a first language. One time it became clear that I succeeded–and that the person was disgusted by me–when the recognition caused a recoil and departure. Sometimes I got a nod. Other times I got a hug. Occasionally I presented a button or a stole.
The language of the Body: the Priest and the Levite who walked by on the other side of the road, not even able to look at the queer people bleeding in the ditch.
The language of Bible: the familiar arguments about Leviticus and Romans; the “love the sinner, hate the sin;” the biological complementary theory; the concluding truth that “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
The language of Sign: actually ASL, when the choir from Christ UMC in Baltimore, a Reconciling Congregation that is predominately Deaf came by to get rainbow stoles. With finger spelling and just a few signs, I could tell the story of the stoles and see loving affirmation.
The language of Intersectionality: I lost count of how many times I explained why RMN is committed to support #blacklivesmatter, what we seek in having an intersectional lens for our work, how an historically predominately white movement listens for the testimony of QPOC to interrogate ourselves and check our privilege.
The languages of Conspire and Solidarity: we had the batteries and the bullhorns, the banners, the tee-shirts. Members of the LYNC came to huddle, to escape, to sit still, to hug, to b r e a t h e. We handed out (with explanation) trans ally buttons #illgowithyou to keep people safe in the bathrooms. We broke the rules and extended our booth boundaries to create a lounge.
The languages of Lament and Prayer: we had handkerchiefs for tears, and band-aids to signify harm (and, on occasion, to cover blisters). We held hands and bowed our heads, we screamed at God, we gave each other benedictions.
The language of Beauty and Music: Lance & Tim delivered a bouquet of flowers week one, and it lasted til closing day. Choirs and bands performed throughout the days: we heard Gospel, jazz, choral masterpiece, folk, drums, children, ukuleles.
The languages of Sustenance and Laughter: we shared trail mix, starburst and skittles, chocolate. We brought each other water and coffee. The toy sound-effects machine could clap, fart, burp, cheer, drumroll, whistle, laugh; we needed release.
But, the common language–the one I treasure: story. As always, when folks from this movement sit next to each other for a few minutes, we learn where passion and care come from. We discover what we have in common and what we can learn from one another. We reveal how good it is here, and how hard it is over there.
We got in the habit, when people wanted a stole (we gave out over 2,500 in these two weeks), to ask “do you know the story of the stole?” Most people didn’t, or weren’t sure, so we did this: we stood in front of the person and placed a stole over their shoulders the same way parents did for us at Gather at the River as we received Communion last August. We said “the parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer child blessed me in this way with a stole like this. They’ve made thousands upon thousands of them to give away over many years so that we might join them in solidarity, as witnesses for their children. They remind us that their children are not ‘an issue’ or ‘an idea’ or ‘incompatible,’ but a real flesh-and-blood person; a beloved child of God, loved by them and loved by God. They ask us to remember them and their children as we wear these stoles. And so: as they blessed me, I bless you today. Thank you for joining the witness.”
And that’s when we usually had to switch to the language of handkerchief.
- Babel and the many languages of General Conference - June 7, 2016
- I married my high school prom date - February 15, 2016
- Liberty, loyalty, and freedom in The United Methodist Church - October 23, 2015