I had the privilege of being asked to speak at the WeConnect women’s event that preceded the Gay Christian Network Conference in Portland. I was both honored and humbled to be asked – I guess it helps when you’re friends with a bunch of the folks organizing the event. I also felt myself faced with a dilemma. As a mainly straight, married to a man for 20 years, gal who serves as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ Christian population, I am acutely aware that my role ought to primarily be about seeing LGBTQ+ Christians being given a platform and opportunity to lift their voices and share their stories.
In my work with New Direction, this is often a point of tension. In many of the church contexts we are serving, there is still the reality that they will give a platform to someone like me much more quickly than to my LGBTQ+ colleagues or members of our Generous Spaciousness community. I suppose the thought is that I’m “safe enough” in that I live the heteronormative life of privilege that the majority of our church folk do. And while I might lament this, in our current context among Evangelical churches this is simply the way it is right now. I try to live in the both/and of going and speaking and extending platform whenever I can.
In many contexts, I try to speak up about the need for LGBTQ+ people to be afforded the chance to speak for themselves. In fact at last year’s GCN conference in Chicago, I was uncomfortable that most of the keynote speakers were straight. There are rich resources of theologians, pastors, and wise practitioners within the LGBTQ+ Christian community – and they should have the platform. This was clearly demonstrated this year with the stellar keynotes by Jeff Chu and Vicky Beeching. Check out the videos here. In our own Generous Spaciousness Retreat, we are intentional about the balance of speakers.
So, here I am, invited to speak at the women’s conference …. and what to do? I suppose my story of moving an ex-gay organization to the place of generous spaciousness is worth telling. But is that really stewarding this opportunity in the wisest way?
After percolating, reflecting, and prayerfully waiting, I decided that in the spirit of adult education principles and my convictions about platform, that I would relinquish the opportunity to speak and instead focus on the gifts, experiences and wisdom in the room. I decided that I would simply be a catalyst, offering a framework to stimulate mutual conversations among the women who had gathered. I was a bit surprised at how risky this felt. I found myself wondering if I’d met people’s expectations, if people thought I took the easy way out by not preparing a 45 minute talk, if I’d ever get another invitation to speak in the GCN context, if people really understood what I was trying to model ….. All of these thoughts were unnecessarily self-focused and I wish that I was mature enough and humbly confident enough that they wouldn’t nip at my heels as much as they do ….. but alas, I’m not there yet.
As I prepared, I thought about the beautiful, resilient women who would be coming together. These are women who have taught me so much. They have taught me to risk pushing past the fear of disappointing God or getting it wrong and leap off the cliff in the trust of a merciful and loving Saviour. I thought of the worship leaders, the pastors, the spiritual directors, the counselors, the social workers, the teachers, the scientists, the writers, the business leaders, the prayer warriors, the wives, the moms, the engaged neighbours that would be in the room. And I thought about the collective experience and wisdom in learning how to practice a sustainable faith in the face of much resistance and pain. I thought about the layers of learning and wondered how to access them as a mutual gift to one another in the limited time that we had.
I came up with the idea of describing a number of different ways to understand the seasons that we go through in our spiritual lives – and some of the practices and questions that help us to keep moving, refusing the paralysis of fear, or accusation, or shame that would seek to clog up our spiritual airways.
The women had a flipchart page at their tables and drew a circle with four quadrants. The first description was of the spiritual practices of awakening, empowerment, relinquishment, and paradox. It has been said that 90% of people live 90% of the time on auto-pilot. This is perhaps indicative of the lightening pace of life accelerated by technology and Red Bull.
Awakening calls us to become alert to the presence of God. We become attuned to the presence of the Spirit – in nature, in words, in inter-personal encounters, in the arts, in our emotional life, in recognizing the yearning in our spirit to be known by One who is bigger, more generous, more wise, and more loving than we are. Awakening is a practice we can regularly cultivate – or it is a practice that can return us to an awareness of the, as Richard Rohr would say, naked now.
Empowerment may seem to be a hodge-podge of self-esteem inflating humanism. But, if we do not open ourselves, posturing ourselves in the humility of receptivity, to receive the good gifts that God has for us, we will have very little to offer beyond ourselves. Christianity is rife with false humility – which is really just inverted pride. But those who practice intentionally receiving, quieting down, and internalizing the truths of being known and loved by God, are able to nurture self-emptying love. If we don’t deeply receive, we simply navigate life as empty vessels.
Relinquishment is an exquisitely painful practice – at least for me. Clichés like, “Letting go is hard to do” become clichés because they are true. But the ongoing practice of relinquishment, of holding things loosely, of learning to empty myself of the pressures, the responsibilities (that often aren’t mine anyway), the fear, the shame, the worries, the expectations (am I reading your mail yet?) has become absolutely essential for me to persevere through the challenges of my life and work. Relinquishment reminds me, as a simple comfort, that, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21) This doesn’t, of course, mean that our losses don’t matter or don’t grieve us. But it does mean that we cultivate a way of life in which we are not so tied to so many things – and this brings a lightness and freedom into our often chaotic and busy lives.
Paradox is a practice of being willing to remain in a place of tension without anxiously trying to immediately resolve it. Paradox welcomes mystery and uncertainty as catalysts to faith – rather than detractors. This is a more mature season of spiritual practice than awakening. But it should be noted that putting these practices in a circle reminds us that we never arrive. We experience life in such a way that we find ourselves thrust into different seasons, needing to emphasize different practices. The comfort is that once we have learned these practices, it isn’t as difficult to move from awakening, to empowerment, to relinquishment, to paradox – and indeed to practice them all simultaneously. These practices aren’t just another list of expectations so that you can be a good Christian – not at all. These are gentle invitations to learn ways to remain in the unforced rhythms of grace.
In the next post, we’ll move to the next layer: Symbols from the First Nation’s Medicine Wheel that inspire prayerful connection to God’s revelation through creation.