3 December 2015: hospitality and lives mattering

Stewardship season gives way to Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and Beloved Community stays on my mind. So, these things:

I’ve been digging again in Woodside’s archives, always a fascinating time. And I’m finding notes from the work you all did to become “open, welcoming and affirming,” the official language of welcome to the LGBT community. That’s no small task, and you did it with integrity. But during the process, and in the intervening years, there have been questions like this: “We’re already welcoming of everyone; why do we have to focus on just one group?”

And I remembered seminary in the 1980s, struggling with the movement for “inclusive language.” That is, language that isn’t bound by gender. A lot of people, mostly men, but more than a few “traditional” women, thought the effort was pointless, distracting, even counterproductive. “When people say ’peace on earth, goodwill to men,’ we know it means men AND women. Why should we abandon the poetic, traditional language, just to appease a few overly sensitive radicals?”

I think those two things are related.

Here’s the thing: if there’s a scripture quotation in the worship bulletin that says “Jesus saves all men,” we women are asked to assume it includes us. But if there’s an announcement following that says “all men are invited to a breakfast at the church on Monday,” we women are NOT supposed to make any assumptions, NOT supposed to show up. How are we supposed to know the difference? Well, we’re smart people, you say, and we can figure it out. But hospitality and compassion mean not making people work so hard.

So instead of simply saying all people are welcome at Woodside, we make a greater effort: all people, we say, including people all along the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity.

So, the third thing: This week, I got a card in the mail from someone in the neighborhood disturbed by our banner that says “Black Lives Matter.” (It’s the second note, but I’m confident it’s from the same neighbor.) The note included the line that 'all lives matter.' Which indeed they do. But some people have been told over and over again how much they matter, and some people have been told over and over again that they matter not much or not at all. In fact, our entire American system is built on the premise that some lives matter less than others, and the ones at the bottom are historically the ones who are black. The further up the pile you go, the whiter the skin of the people you are likely to encounter.

So when “all lives matter” has generally meant “all white people,” expanding the affirmation means getting specific. Black lives matter. All lives matter, including black ones. I’m sorry our anonymous neighbor can’t see that. Sorry for whatever fear or anger or hurt or experience keeps this neighbor from broadening a welcome by getting specific with language.

There is a fourth thing, which may seem unrelated at first glance.

Woodside is about welcome, about hope and life and resurrection and all that. Beloved community. But the holidays are coming, bringing perennial Norman Rockwell images of what family should look like. We’re practically smothered with expectations, suffocated by an air of family perfection. And even the non-perfection has to be adorable or poignant or come with a Valuable Lesson Learned. Christmas is coming, and with it the pressure to clean up well. No family dysfunction, no grief or loss or hollowness of heart, no illness or addiction, no resentment or estrangement or boundary violations. No wrong turns, wrong gifts, wrong words, wrong emotions. It’s a lot to manage, the public perception that everything is A-OK.

But we know better. Life isn’t clean or easy. Life isn’t always satisfying or affirming. It can be those things, but it can also be a confusing, terrifying, disappointing, painful mess. We are beloved community, beloved and diverse human community. And we come with baggage and scars. Fears and hurts and angers and experiences that haunt us, that threaten to overshadow or overwhelm us. In this season of photoshopped families and imposed ideals, we gather as a community to support and sustain one another in hope that one day the world will be whole and we will be whole.

So here’s the fifth thing: This year, in our diverse and broken and beloved community of defiance, we are gathering with permission to be -- with expectation that we are -- decidedly unRockwell. Always, but particularly Solstice, December 21, the longest night of the year. As the holiday comes barreling toward us, we’ll gather at 7 pm in quiet communion to support one another. We will abandon pretense and quit trying to walk off whatever grief or loss or anxiety or hurt the holiday may bring, whatever grief or loss or anxiety or hurt comes from simply being human. We’ll share readings and songs, light candles, have some bread and wine, and offer prayers; on the cusp of a new season, as nights begin to shorten and the light promises to return, we’ll let ourselves rest in the arms of a loving God. In the care of a loving community.

Of course all lives matter. Even the Rockwellian ones. But in a season that seems to celebrate the picture perfect, we want to be clear that broken lives are welcome, too. Maybe we thought we said so already, maybe we thought people would assume they were welcome.

But hospitality and compassion mean not making people work that hard.

With you on the sometimes dark journey

-pastor deb