Adventures in Faith: Beyond Pride
Scripture: Song of Songs 1:5-7
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Last Sunday, June 28th, was the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, the foreparent of today’s LGBTQ liberation marches and pride parades, and the reason we celebrate June as pride month.
The Stonewall Inn, was a bar owned and run by the mafia who would both bribe police in order to be able to illegally serve alcohol to gay customers, and blackmail their wealthiest patrons with threats of outing them to the public.
Patrons had no recourse for the health and safety violations of the bar, such as being served from dirty glasses that likely caused a hepatitis outbreak among guests, or the lack of a rear exit, leaving the small front door as the only way out in case of emergency, because while homosexuality was legal by that time in New York, members of the LGBT community were still subjected to state-sponsored oppression and culturally-and-religiously grounded shame.
One night, during a police raid of the bar, a Black lesbian performer named Stormé DeLarverie, known as “the Rosa Parks of the gay community”, fought back against the police who were beating her as they tried to arrest her. As the crowd looked on and cheered in support of her, she yelled out, “why don’t you guys do something?!”, and the crowd began throwing coins, beer cans, and eventually bricks at the police, who called in the tactical police force who in turn escalated the violence and a riot broke out. However, in the words of Stormé herself, “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience - it wasn’t no damn riot.”. This is the heritage of the pride parade.
I remember my first pride parade. IT was the summer after I graduated college, i went with friends from home and some of my rugby teammates. I wore a tank top I had gotten from a frat party because it was the most colorful piece of clothing that I owned at the time, the closest thing I had to a rainbow. By he end of the day I’d be covered in flags and beads and stickers that were being tossed from the various floats, but that morning it was just me, my frat shirt, and my little drawstring backpack fro my water and snacks. I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for- I remember feeling pride (ha) when I saw all the churches marching, many of them UCC; I remember marveling at the makeup and costuming talents of the Sisters of Perpetual indulgence (look them up if you have the chance), I remember discovering that Boston had a gay mens rugby team, and chuckling with my teammates that pretty much every womens rugby team is a gay rugby team….I remember running up to Elizabeth Warren, back then a first time candidate for senate and asking her if I could take a photo with her….long before the self-lines at her town hall meetings and rallies became infamous.
Several Prides since, I’ve seen little kids with their parents, drunk, exuberant teenagers, elders being wheeled by loved ones and caretakers and spouses, sobriety themed floats, and big corporations trying to get in on the action. I used to feel like I had to ‘attend’ pride every year, as though it was a one time event that couldn’t be missed. The one time of year to celebrate and feel pride. But as I’ve gotten older and less tolerant of the humidity of a Boston summer, I’ve skipped a parade or two and simultaneously realized what many of our foreparents and probably most gen z’ers already know: Pride isn’t an event, a once-yearly parade or worship service or rally. Pride is a state of one’s soul, a way of living, a way of being. Pride is a way of relating to yourself and to others. As I heard some lamenting that the Boston pride was ‘canceled’ this year, while I understood the sentiment, I took issue with the phrasing. Though the parade may have been canceled in order to save lives, Pride itself is ongoing. It’s not limited to a parade route or a day or the month of June. It’s more than companies marketing to the LGBTQ community (and how many of those companies have all-white, all-straight boards of directors)?
In fact, given that the origins of the pride parade and movement started as an uprising led by women of color such as Stormé, as well as Marsha P. Johnson, a black drag queen, and Sylvia Rivera, a latina transgender woman, led by black trans women in response to police brutality, this year is perhaps the pridiest pride that ever prided….but I digress…
Pride is an adventure. When we live with pride in who we are, in how God made us, we absolve ourselves of the responsibility for diminishing who we are in order to make ourselves palatable to others. This morning’s scripture reading captures the pride of a woman who knows who she is, and who she is not. I am black and beautiful, she says…why should I be like one who is veiled beside the flocks of your companions?
How do we capture this woman’s spirit in our own lives? How do we live with pride? I’m sure that many of us have aspects of our lives, our personalities, our stories, that we tend to shave down, leave out of stories, wish were different, or even try to suppress. I’ve got a question: how’s that working for you?
Let’s do a little exercise.
I invite you to close your eyes or fix your gaze somewhere comfortable.
As you take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, think about a part of yourself that you tend to hide, criticize, or make smaller, solely for the comfort of others.
Pay attention to how it feels in your body when you think about this part of yourself.
Devote several breathes to exploring and feeling those sensations.
Now imagine seeing yourself through God’s eyes, marveling with pride at how special you are, how each part of who you are is loved, is crafted with care and intention.
Imagine what it might look or feel like to not just accept, but embrace all of who you are.
Your stubbornness? Beloved.
Your sexuality? Beloved.
Your skepticism? Beloved.
Your gender? Beloved.
Your melanin? Beloved.
Your rough edges? Beloved as dearly as the smooth planes.
As you listen to the words of the psalmist, pay special attention to the sensations in your body, how, if at all, they’ve shifted or changed.
I praise you, God, because I am reverently and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Devote several breaths to noticing, exploring, and feeling the sensations in your body now.
When you are ready, open your eyes.
Living with pride isn’t about ego, or about pretending we don’t have flaws. It’s not about embracing the pride we think of when we hear it among the list of the seven deadly sins, for that pride comes from thinking of ourselves as an island, as wholly and entirely self-reliant, with no connection to the interdependent creation God intended for us. That pride is about denying our need for God and our need for one another. The kind of pride I’m talking about- living with that kind of pride, it’s about claiming our identity as children of God who are fearfully and wonderfully made, by a God who looked upon creation and saw that it was good. It’s about understanding that we are part of a creation that we need, and that needs us.
Living with pride gives us a stable foundation for growth. When we know who we are at our core, when we know that we are beloved because of who we are, and not in spite of who we are, we are able to find the courage to look at our shadow sides too, to see where we have room to grow and deepen and evolve.
Being an Open and Affirming, Welcoming, and Reconciling church is about more than just affirming members of the LGBTQ community. It’s about challenging ourselves to expand our current notions of hospitality and welcoming, to examine who may feel excluded or forgotten or dismissed, to explore who might be making themselves smaller to fit in, and instead, make ourselves more expansive. What a challenging and joyful adventure!
And I say adventure because, as many know all too well, living with pride doesn’t guarantee safety. When our pride in who we are butts up against systems of oppression that are invested in our shame, in our making ourselves smaller, it can be dangerous. When our pride confronts what patriarchy says is the way things ought to be, when it confronts the tenets of white supremacy, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, there is real risk involved. As a nation we know better than to delude ourselves into thinking that it is safe for our LGBTQ siblings to live with pride in every community. Loving yourself is a dangerous act for our siblings of color. For people living under oppression, Joy is resistance.
The love poem we heard in today’s scripture reading asks “why should I be like one who is veiled?” The question for us is, how do we make it safe to unveil, and how do we earn that trust?
As with many things, I think it starts within ourselves. When our own self-love, self-acceptance, and pride is based not on comparing ourselves to others but is grounded instead in our ineradicable identity as children of God, when it does not depend on others being less than, when we realize that worth is not a zero-sum pie chart but an ever-overflowing cup, we divest ourselves from the systems of oppression that were built to maintain a heretical hierarchy, and invest ourselves in the kin-dom of God. It is not easy work. It is not always safe work. But it is God’s work, and we have the privilege and responsibility to carry it out.