This is my reflection for Sunday Service of March 27, 2022
Biblical Witness: The Gospel Of John 1:19 — 23
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
Contemporary Witness: Our Native Daughters – “I Knew I Could Fly” Behind The Scenes Documentary
Reflection: “Being Yourself”
Today our Lenten grief question is, “What are your church griefs about the pandemic?” The question is centered around the idea of the pandemic, but I want to acknowledge something first. There are a lot of people with church grief. I like to quote our own Rev. Jasmine Quinerly, our Association Minister, who says, “There’s no hurt like church hurt.”
When the church as an institution is more concerned with its institutional status or maintaining human imposed rules or requirements than they are with seeing, hearing, and caring for people individually and communally, the hurt caused to people becomes collateral damage for the sake of religion. Many of us have experienced that, myself included. It takes a lot to heal from such hurt because it’s a betrayal of what love is supposed to be. The church is meant to be an expression of love that comes from God through people. Too often – and whenever it happens it’s too often – the church is a place of spiritual judgment and moral certitude based on fears. The idea that what we understand about the spiritual realm might be inaccurate puts us in fear of punishment or hell. When I say “we” I am talking universally and generally – not speaking of any one of us specifically.
One of my goals as a spiritual leader and guide is to dispel this notion of fear – whether it’s a fear of being spiritually wrong, of punishment on this earth, or of some eternal torment like hell. When people are monitored and regulated to fit into boxes because the boxes make the those in power or in the majority feel safe, then those who don’t actually fit in the boxes are marginalized, bullied, and subjected to violence in all their spheres of being – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Plymouth is meant to be a sanctuary from that violence and from the expectations to fit into boxes. This is a place where you can do your work of deconstructing your internal narrative based on outside voices and rebuild yourself through the Holy Love you experience for yourself.
There is nothing more sacred and holy than discovering who you as a creation of Holy Love, made in the image of that love. For many of us, due to the pandemic, we lost personal contact with each other in our church setting. Community connection is one way for us to be inspired to continue the work of loving ourselves and finding ourselves. Being in isolation put us at risk of not being supported in our continued transformation and growth.
Being yourself … encountering yourself … experiencing yourself … these are not goals unto themselves. When we delve into understanding ourselves in a loving way we enter community differently. Our approach to life is more secure and outward focused. Sometimes we have to turn inward for a time to heal and become strong. But in the long run, our compassion toward ourselves helps us to deepen our understanding of others; to accept and celebrate all people – families and folks of all kinds. This is the community we are continually unfolding here at Plymouth.
What does it take to be yourself? To love yourself? How do you go about it, especially when there are voices, policies, legislations, and doctrines which restrict and punish those outside what is considered the norm? There is not easy answer. All I can offer is the encouragement to continue finding your authentic self in the image of Holy Love and the assurance that you are valuable and loved just for being you.
In the video of Our Native Daughters, the question is asked, what might Etta Baker had become if she had been allowed to be fully herself when she was younger? The women in Our Native Daughters acknowledge the shoulders they stand on which allow them to be independent, to travel, and play their music. The brilliance of Etta Baker lay dormant – hidden – for decades before she found the freedom to spread her wings. When she did, we all benefitted. It seems to me that she knew who she was and the gift she had been given. What a loss that she had to bide her time until she could let loose with her full self. What a blessing to all of us that she finally was able to. Our Native Daughters give credit to her perseverance and unfolding. They credit their own success to Etta Baker and people like her.
Right now, there are people being shoved back into the closet because of governmental bullying tactics. Some trans kids are afraid for their parents who want to support them, because their parents are being threatened with jail. Medical and educational providers are being threatened too. According to news sources, there have been about 240 anti-LGBTQ bills filed so far in the U.S. this year. According to Equality Texas, “All 30+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed this session were officially dead, including 13 direct attacks on transgender youth.” Another bit of good news is that there has been a partial block from the Texas Court of Gov. Abbott’s anti-trans directive to investigate families. However, all these bullying tactics have unleashed misunderstandings about what is legal and what isn’t, as well as given permission for the bullying of trans kids, their families, and honestly anyone who is lgbta+. Our national conversation influences the conversations in our neighborhoods, our families, and our churches.
At the same time, the conversations we have in our churches can influence our national conversation. What we do here, what we stand for, makes a difference.
In our Gospel story today, John the Baptist is being questioned by the religious leaders. They asked him, “Who are you? What do you say about yourself?” His answer? I am a voice crying out in the wilderness. He denied being the one come to save anyone. He refused the title of Elijah or prophet. All he embraced was being a voice crying out the directive to make a bee-line to God. He didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to go through him to get to The Divine. He also didn’t want people to feel compelled to go through a human being or institution in order to connect with The Presence of Love. He was just a voice calling out directions to the most direct route to God.
I imagine he felt pressure to call himself either more or less than he felt he was. They wanted him to say more so that they could put him in a box of their liking. He didn’t go for it. He refused. John knew he was taking a risk by not collaborating with the bullies. He had prepared himself all his life to live out his calling as The Voice.
I would love to be able to say that we all need to push against the bullies and live fully our authentic lives. Here’s the thing tho, it continues to be a risk. For some, it’s more of a risk than others. I will say this, you need to take the risks that you can take, and to stay safe in ways that you need to stay safe.
This week we’ve witnessed Supreme Court Nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson being raked over the coals through questioning in her confirmation hearing. If confirmed, Jackson will be the first black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. I’m praying like crazy for her strength and peace of mind in the face of idiocy and prejudice as she goes through this process. No one should have to deal with what she is going through. She is up to the task and I believe we need to stand behind her.
I also believe we have to stand behind the families of trans-kids, and their care providers, as they maneuver through the prejudice and ignorance they are dealing with. The risks they are taking have become higher than they were before.
For each of us, there has to be a place where we can be ourselves. A place where it isn’t risky and we can bloom. This community, Plymouth, is a place where we practice loving ourselves and each other. A place where we can change our minds about our own direction and give each other grace and room. This is what it means to be a church. We are a community of faith journeying together toward what love calls us to be, which includes being our deepest and richest version of ourselves that we discover ourselves to be. The more we are able to be ourselves here, the more we will be able to be ourselves out there in the world. As we do, we will grow in our strength to support and advocate for others to fully bloom to be their most authentic God-created self. That’s a ministry we can be proud of. One that isn’t based on preserving the institution, but in preserving human dignity, which is one of the most holy and sacred ministries I can think of.