Celebrating Emmanuel’s 10 year anniversary of being an Open & Affirming Congregation
A Prayer of Queer Thanksgiving by Rev. Micah Bucey
I sing praises to this little boy, no more than seven or eight,
Who just pranced right up to me and interlaced his own tiny, nail-polished fingers
With my own, and cried out, “Twins!”
I sing praises to his choice of glittery green,
Which perfectly complements my shimmery purple.
I sing praises to his guts, his gumption, his presumption
That I am a friend, a familiar, a fellow fairy — family —
Even though we’ve never met.
I sing praises to the street that brings us together
And to the fabulous whomever he, she, they will become.
I sing praises to the well-coiffed mother, bubbling over and teary-eyed,
As she exclaims, “He saw you all the way across the street and just had to say, ‘Hello.’”
I sing praises to the baseball-capped father, looking on with quiet pride,
As he asks, “Do you paint yourself or do you have them professionally done?”
I sing praises to the grandma and the grandpa, holding hands and smiling wide,
As they look one another in the eye and celebrate what their love has made.
I sing praises to the dozens of witnesses to this family reunion,
The ones who hurry by and the ones who slow down,
The ones who look up from their phones to watch history being made,
The ones who set aside their cynicism for one, brief, shining moment,
So they can join in the smiles,
Join in the connection,
As I squeeze the tiny fingers of this seven-or-eight-year-old unicorn and proclaim: “Twins!”
And I sing praises to the cloud of invisible witnesses that surrounds us,
And in the singing and the praising, I feel them appear around us.
This is fantasy, but this is real.
This is fantasy, but fantasy is what painted our nails in the first place.
I see Marsha [P. Johnson], brick in hand, ready to take no [crap],
And Sylvia [Rivera], microphone primed, ready to take us to task.
I see Christine [Jorgensen], done up and glamorous, no hair out of place,
And I hear [Marlene Deitrich] and Sylvester [James Jr.] and David [Bowe],
crooning as Billy [Tipton] tickles the ivories.
I see Langston [Houghes] and Lorraine [Hansberry] and James [Baldwin] and
Oscar [Wilde] and Octavia [Butler] and Larry [Kramer, scribbling away,
As José [Esteban Munoz] and Eve [Sedgwcik] and Michel [Faucoult] critique and queer and complicate.
I hear Divine and Candy [Darling] and Andy [Warhol] and Hibiscus whispering,
“Don’t be so serious. Let this just be the silly thing it is.”
I feel the breeze as Alvin [Ailey] twirls by,
And I feel the squeeze as Alan [Turing]computes the logic of it all.
I see Bayard [Rustin] and Harvey [Milk] and Audre [Lorde] and Michael [Callen]
and Harry [Hay] and Gilbert [Baker] and Edie [Windsor] and Jane [Addams] and Dick [Leitsch],
Satisfied and still nudging, content and continuing to fight.
With Rev. Tory [Perry] and Mother Pauli [Murray] praying right along.
I hear Leonard [Bernstein] and Howard [Ashman] and Sister Rosetta [Tharpe] composing a hit,
As Michael [Bennet] and Willi [Ninja] choreograph a group number,
And Frida [Kahlo] and Keith [Haring] and Jean-Michel [Basquait] line us all up for
what will surely be a kooky portrait for the ages.
I feel the forces, see the faces of the famous and the foreign,
And the cloud opens wider to reveal our mess of martyrs.
I see Rita [Heter] and Matthew [Shepherd] and Brandon [Teena] and Roxana [Hernandez],
The 32 patrons of the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans burned to death in 1973
And the 49 murdered at gunpoint at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando in 2016
I see faces I’ve never seen before,
I hear names I’ve never known,
I hear voices I’ve never heard before, shouting, “Twins! Twins! Twins!”
We are nothing alike and we are everything alike,
We are on the street together and we are more than worlds apart.
We are a rainbow and we are a cloud,
Born of color and tears, of triumph and tragedy,
Feeding the arc of a moral universe that has trampled us,
Even as we decorate the damn thing and teach it how to bend.
We are serious and sassy, glittery and grim,
Furious and filled with fear that fools itself into fabulosity.
We are everything I describe and nothing I describe.
We are everything I see and so much I do not see.
We can pick out one another on the street,
And we can be strangers in the same parade.
We are more than fits inside our ever-expanding initials,
And we are only as much as we allow ourselves to be.
We are a rainbow and we are a cloud,
Bending and bursting, beautiful and terrifying.
And I sing praises to the rainbow and I sing praises to the cloud.
I sing praises to the colorful progress,
And I sing praises to the storm that shouts, “Progress is a myth.
Stop acting so small. You are the Universe in ecstatic motion.”
I sing praises to the Universe that we are,
To the rainbow that we’ve been, to the cloud we will all become,
And I feel that word fizzing up inside me,
though it often frightens more than frees:
I sing praises to this family
That claims me for who I am and gently shoves me into who I can become.
I sing praises to the saints who don’t want to be saints,
To the martyrs and the heroes who ask for none of the notoriety.
I sing praises to the bloodless ties that keep us afloat until the blood ties catch up.
I sing praises to the clouds that cry out, “Families belong together,”
And know that it means so much more than what some want it to mean.
I sing praises to this fleeting moment on the street,
A moment that begins between two nail-polished people,
And then prisms out, extending the rainbow, creating the cloud.
We are twins and we are nothing alike.
We are seeking a tribe and we are extending the tribe.
We have so much to teach and we have so much to learn.
We have eternal praises to sing and we have eternal thanks to give.
Our greatest gift is the light of our color and the salt of our tears,
As we recognize one another like children on the busy street and insist on saying,
“Hello. I see you. I feel this between us and I can’t quite explain it.”
I sing praises to our gift of family recognition,
And until all families bend to the love of difference,
Until this country bends to love of family,
I sing praises to this growing familial cloud,
Rainbow saints painting paths for their yearning children,
And I pray not with my own hands clasped together,
But with my polished fingers interlaced with any other child I can recognize.
As we get started, I’m going to be using the word queer. It has a long a complicated history, as language often has. It’s currently used in a couple of ways, one is academia, there are queer studies programs and queer theology studies. Another is as an all-inclusive, umbrella term for those in the diverse sexual and gender identities and expressions. Yes, it could be said as an insult but, with the right tone, most things can. For example, “He’s such a… Jim.”
A year after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, journalist Justin Mitchell went to Orlando. He went to the sight of the club and saw the memorial, the names and the pictures, the poems and the messages. What really got him though, were the memorial candles, lit again, lit anew, continually lit for a year, lifting prayers.
It reminded Justin of growing up in catholic church, attending mass and Sunday school, learning the songs and connecting to communion. He also remembered the day in youth group when the kids were taught that being gay was a sin, how it severed his relationship to the church and the Divine. As he stood before those candles, all those years later, he saw something he had never seen before. He wrote:
Because what many don’t realize is that a gay bar is exactly like church in many ways for the LGBTQ+ community. They both are safe spaces where its members can let go and be vulnerable. They can share their most suppressed feelings, whether it’s holding a man’s hand or praying to the man upstairs. It’s a place where, above all, you don’t feel like anything bad is going to happen to you. https://www.sunherald.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/throwing-shade/article156236254.html
You, Emmanuel, are amazing. Some of you have queer kids of your own, some have grown to adulthood, maybe kids of their own. There are queer Grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins and colleagues. And you may not have understood, and you may not have done everything right the first time, but what I see in you is that you learned, you grew, you chose love.
Not every queer kid, from the small one playing dress up or with trucks to the teenager filled with changing hormones and feelings that are “abnormal” to the adult coming to terms with who they are at least, has that. There are queer folx told they have to leave and they’ll have no home to return to, sent out into small towns and big cities. There are trans and queer folx who are fired from jobs, denied jobs, denied housing. Trans women of color are particularly vulnerable. These, often young people, are more likely to fall victim to abuse, violence and forced or survival sex industry. They are vulnerable.
There are queer kids being told they’ll never earn God’s love being left without a community, without support, without something to believe in except the lie they have been feed they are unloveable.
There are queer kids, adults, who have been living in the wilderness. The wilderness of lost home, family, community, God. Wilderness where they might not know where their next meal comes from. Wilderness of wondering if they are loveable, were ever really loved, will ever be loved again. Wilderness of not having a tribe, a community, a place to be safe–and not just safe from violence but a place to be honest, and vulnerable, and fully themselves.
What we see again and again is that God cares about those in the wilderness. God heard and cared about Abraham in the wilderness. God heard Hagar and Ishmael alone and afraid in the wilderness. God heard and cared about Joseph in the wilderness. God heard and cared about the traveling Israelites in the wilderness. God brought promise, safety, security, and sustenance. God sent the Israelites food, to meet their needs, to care for their bodies, to prepare them for the next things. God heard the cries and gave them what they needed.
And we are called to be of God’s business. We are called to be of the work of God. We are called to love and care about the things God loves and cares about. How do we love and care for those in the wilderness?
We are so good at welcoming everyone who comes through the doors of our church, and that is a lot. But, do they know? Do the people who are in the wilderness, the wilderness of lost family, community, faith, identity, God, know that they are loved? Do they know there is a community here that is preparing a place for them? Preparing a welcome. Preparing to remind them that they are loved by God, and loveable, and enough, and beautifully made. We’re soo good at that, but how do we tell them? How will they know that THIS place, that you are a safe place, a sacred community?
What is the manna that we can cover Lake Country with? What are the signs of welcome, community, and love that we can leave for someone to walk up to and ask, “What is this?” What is the manna that we can rain down, that we can leave that would nourish someone’s soul, fill someone’s heart, help them feel safe? Is it little flags? Is it more classes and education? Is it documentary movie nights? Is it gatherings in spaces beyond these doors?
And I know, it can feel vulnerable and scary. And sometimes people will say things, like, I’ve heard we’ve been called “that gay church.” Ok… We’re also a church that prioritizes accessibility, housing for the housing vulnerable, food for those without. We’re a church that says black lives matter, and seeks to be in relationship with native populations, and supports resettling refugees. We’re a church that strives for the good of children, animals, and the earth; that believes in science and still takes the Bible seriously. So, we’re the gay church, too! A church that makes a safe place in this building and in our community and in our lives for those who are in the wilderness.
And maybe that makes you feel vulnerable. What will people say? What if they respond badly. But maybe that vulnerability is what someone needs to feel safe. Maybe it’s part of the manna we leave in the world. The thing that someone is desperately needing. That which will remind them that God cares for those in the wilderness and God’s people do too.
Being a disciple of Jesus, being part of a community of faith, and being an Open and Affirming congregation is not a one-time thing. It does not happen in a moment and then everything stays the same. Discipleship, community, church–these are not static but dynamic, growing, changing concepts. We never stop learning from God, from Jesus, from the Bible, from each other. We struggle, we strive, we argue, we forgive, we reconcile, we celebrate, we do it over and over again, with each other, and yes, with God.
10 years ago, Emmanuel, you reached this milestone of officially becoming an Open and Affirming Congregation. Like our mothers and fathers of faith, it is marked as a moment on a journey so we can remember and return, renew and refine.
Whether you were here 10 years ago, or this is your first time joining us, will you stand as you’re able to affirm our covenant.