I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.
Our church small group has met now for a couple months, driven by the need for unity and identification. Sometimes there are three of us, most times four, other times five or six.
We gather every two weeks. Half of us are lesbian and transgender, the other half straight. Wine and dessert are our top priorities. Kids come, grabbing their ice cream, finding their way to the backyard. We greet with hugs, making small talk about the day. One of us breaks the seal on the self-imposed dietary shyness, uncorking the wine – goblets clink, dessert is parsed. We join at the long, oversized, rectangular table of rustic wood, benches pulled out from underneath at angles. Our conversation begins slow at first. But the wine works her magic, tongues loosen while thoughts of everyday concerns fade and the real discussion commences.
Years ago I prayed a prayer, wondering if it fell on deaf ears, unsure of how or if it would be answered. I prayed for a community of diversity, a community which included LGBT people. I wanted to grow and learn, with faces instead of issues, real life instead of labels. I wanted to have my presumptions challenged, to practice love instead of fear and to show my children the same. I wanted to learn how to love with an open mind, without assumption.
The wine is poured and glasses toast marking the beginning of generous, wholehearted discourse. Two hours of nodding, passing tissues, earnest listening. Two hours of receiving and dispensing kindness. Two hours of telling stories.
Stories shared and information set right. Vulnerability and honesty from the outset, centering the drive for understanding and clarity. Laughter tinged with truth, tears tinged with fear. Will any of this get better? Can I make them see? How did it become this way? Why am I my family’s greatest spiritual test?
We each come to the table from Christian backgrounds and deep faiths. The work of unraveling former ways of thinking and operating is time consuming, a relentless and oftentimes painful road that bears great burden and much pain. The notion that we are all loved beyond our imagining is difficult to comprehend, much less accept. The strength of my friends astonishes me, their courage to live with authenticity into how they were created is beautiful and exemplary.
So, after I fetch Kleenex and more water, I sit and listen to the wisdom born from suffering and I rejoice. My prayers were answered, my heart swells, relishing this full glimpse of God’s kingdom.
The worn table wears the beautiful burden of honest and seeking questions where conditions have been left behind. Sexuality is not a sin. Sexuality is not an identifier. Sexuality is not something to be afraid of here in my house.
This is our group of undoing. The undoing of painful denial, the undoing of fearful obedience, the undoing of a vengeful God, the undoing of presumed rule-breaking.
This is our group of building. The building of new identities, the building of faithful honoring through learning to love self, the building of generous and life-giving presumptions of the church.
This is our group of healing. The healing of time worn lies, the healing of painful assumptions, the healing of God’s presumed condemnation. Healing from the treatment of other Christians.
This is our group of grace. The grace to live as one was born, the grace to live as one is called, the grace to live in wholeness, gazing ahead into generous beauty and expectation.
This is our community of lesbian, transgender, straight, women, man, wives, husbands and friends. This is our group that meets at the table to learn and grow, to lament and weep, to celebrate and honor, to tell stories and provide encouragement, to question and bring relief.
I am grateful to have this plentiful space, with Kleenex and food. I am grateful for the strong, remarkable people who choose to gather, bear witness and move forward in this beautiful and holy work. I am beyond grateful that I have a front row seat, all of it beginning from a little prayer.
The communion of food and drink, celebrating life together, this picture of eternity a snapshot of redemption. The good work of empathy. The holiest work of compassion. The just work of healing, joining together in community, learning how to love better.