Lavish Welcome

Will you welcome me…

In my brokenness and imperfection
When I am questioning, lost and confused
When I am anxious, worried, angry, resentful, and full of bitterness
When I’ve been hurtful
In my differences
In my sameness
In my truth-telling or my challenge
In my not – understanding or when I don’t make any sense
In my unrealized prejudices, in my stereotyping, In my blind racism
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Hear these 5 definitions:
First definition – Quiltbag – from the Queer Dictionary. An acronym for queer, questioning, unidentified, intersex, lesbian, transgender, transexual, bisexual, ally, asexual, gay or genderqueer. The acronym is more inclusive, easier to say that LGBTQ, and more memorable.
Second – Ally – from safe zones – A non-LGBTQ person who works in solidarity both with other heterosexual people and with the queer community to aid in the struggle against hate, discrimination, and the heterosexist and patriarchal norms present in our culture.
Third – Lavish – a term used at the connecting families conference, and takes a slightly different twist when pairing it with welcome, rather than using the term radical welcome – lavish – meaning sumptuously rich, generous, to shower with, giving or using a large amount of something, expending or bestowing profusely, giving lots of attention to, overdoing it. Today we heard it used in 1 John 3:1 in regards to God’s lavish love.
The word community from the latin roots cum, munus meaning – together and gift – putting it together – it means – “give among each other”
Lastly, Hospitality = dismantling stereotypes we put on others, systems of injustice that separate people
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In preparation for today I have gathered materials from the Safe Zones curriculum on the Brethren Mennonite Council website, welcomingresources.org, the SMC chapbook, Believer’s Church Commentary as well as ideas generated from a small SMC group who met last month and the recent adult studies on connecting families/and reviewing our welcome statement.
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The questions for us today are… How lavish is our welcome? Is just being nice – enough?? Is being a welcoming church – just being tolerant and respectful? Does welcoming come naturally or is it learned?
What is the extent of our love for others in community/ does it reflect God’s lavish love?
Often our fears get in the way of true welcome, how much are we able to risk in order to move outside our comfort zone? The aspects of welcome are reflected in the combination of warmth, love, acceptance, freedom, comfort, snergy, clear rules/expectation, knowing what the structure and boundaries are, what are the options…
How willing are we to overdo this welcome for anyone who comes through our doors? Who do we want in/who do we try to keep out?
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Imagine this – 2 quiltbag high-school graduates go out ready to find a community to offer their gifts – they identify a community they want to visit and chose to bring nothing with them. They take no money, no bag, no extra coat, pair of sandals, food or GPS. What kind of community will they find? Will they be accepted or rejected?
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For non-quiltbaggers – there is a certain privilege in entering a community … Not the same level of fear with regard to potential rejection… Will you be faced with questions…re: sexual orientation, gender…here are some of the privileges that are real for me…
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I do not have to worry about whether I will be able to find a safe and accessible bathroom or locker room to use.
I know that I will not be fired from a job or denied a promotion because of my sexuality.
I can easily find a neighborhood in which residents will accept how I constitute my household.
Our families and church community were delighted to celebrate with Jonathan and I the gift of love and commitment.
If I experience violence on the street, it will not be because I am holding hands with my partner.
I am not laughed at, bullied at school for being queer.
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Today’s Matthew text includes call, sending out, instruction, warning, comfort, realities and rewards. The disciples will be sent and can expect 1 of 2 things – acceptance or rejection, a community will have people in it who will be welcoming or not welcoming – and the text describes what to expect if you are received so it will be obvious when you enter a community. The welcoming household will be worthy of you, you will be received well, it will provide what you need, it will offer safety and protection, you won’t feel like you have to whisper – rather you will feel able to proclaim and not feel like you have anything to hide as there is nothing to fear. You will feel valued and you will feel your worth. This community will listen and will get it. People will not respond with silence
or opposition, but advocate as they hear the truth – emulating – the community of God – the sick will be healed and death overcome.
In contrast, other communities will be oppositional – but don’t take this personally – shake off the dust from your feet. If you are persecuted – flee to the next community.
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Consider the context of the welcoming community as opposed to the community that rejects – its pre-existing culture of welcome, receptivity and acceptance – they don’t have to learn how to be hospitable when you walk into the community/welcoming seems to be part of their DNA. This community is very open to the disciples and produces an obvious welcome – could we say lavish? This place where God has been working already (where people are giving among each other) and open to receive. The people make it so obvious that it may seem to us – that they overdo it and are ready to be transformed from Safe Zones Curriculum by the acceptance of you. It cannot be assumed that people from the quiltbag community will have the same experience of lavish welcome, rather the quiltbag will be prepared for rejection, have their radar up and be looking for signs of a safe community…
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So let’s understand the criteria for a community that creates a safe zone, expresses welcome in a way that signals public affirmation for everyone:
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Do the people in this welcoming community voice support for the quiltbag, do they respond to stereotypical or stigmatizing comments, saying why they think the comment is not ok, are there visual cues that identify the community as a safe zone such as a welcome statement or rainbow flag, are they a community that acts in solidarity for equal rights and protections,
are they open, ready to listen and hear the experience of someone on the margins, integrate them into the community and invite to full participation?
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Here we can imagine efforts in the community that go beyond being nice, respectful and supportive, toward a community in solidarity. Elements of a supportive community are quite different than being a community in solidarity… where the purpose of a supportive community provides sanctuary, a community in solidarity will be involved in advocacy, where the supportive one is private, the one of solidarity is public, the supportive community will have low visibility as opposed to high, if we’re moving toward solidarity the relationship to status quo moves from comfort to challenge, it will not be labeled nice but will be labelled radical, it will not be experienced as paternalistic but interactive, it will recognize both overt and covert oppression, it will engage and risk vs. being protective, it will value difference rather than minimize, and rather than be patient it will ask – how can I contribute. (adapted from Safe Zones Curriculum)
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Consider that we are this receptive community/acting in solidarity – a safe zone, really putting it on lavishly – making it obvious that we welcome all at the same time welcoming Christ. Lavish welcome might be a term used for receiving royalty, heads of state – where we roll out the red carpet. Our Mennonite way in our worship and in our space- is simple, subdued, plain, no frills, understated as compared to the cathedral – of stain-glass windows, grand instruments, rich/decorated space with gold finishings. We might throw a lavish party – like for a wedding – with our best dress, extravagant decoration, flowers, sumptuous food. But generally lavish might be more difficult for us to embrace.
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So what is lavish SMC-style?
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We do not have a road map to understand church after inclusion as noted in a sermon by John Linschield, “the church we grew up in no longer fits.” The foundations have been shaken…we know this from watching the larger Mennonite Church USA react to Colorado where a lesbian minister was licensed toward ordination. We are in a stage inbetween a familiar past and an unknown future. The inclusive minded church values relationships over defined institutional boundaries. I believe SMC is flexible, responsive and open to coming up with a new way of being. God sets the example – How great is the love that God has lavished upon us that we should be called children of God – 1 John 3:1. God lavishing love upon us.
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Can we demonstrate this love to our children through creation of a safe zone to question, of a culture that understands hospitality rather than severe independence, and of a city that is free of gun violence? Can we change our attitudes, continue to build relationships and connections that reflect deep listening and acceptance, challenge and change. In adult study, we noticed that living more fully into our welcome statement – should mean that we become more visible – post the statement, include a Q at the end of LGBT, put the message in the communicator, put up some rainbows, and consider a pastor from a minority group – so it will be known and obvious. Others ideas generated from the adult study sharing include- using a curriculum for deeper learning, creating a safe place for questions, and hosting connecting families in 2 years
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Meeting with a small group in May – together we explored what lavish welcome might mean for SMC. I heard this small group speak of lavish welcome as equal to grace. In knowing that there is grace,we can be authentic in speaking what is on our hearts and minds, knowing that the hearer might be graceful in receiving what I share, not with -holding or shrinking to reduce others discomfort. A lavish welcome creates a safe place, it holds confidentially the experiences shared within the community, it signals to its participants in a very visible way that it is safe. It is a community that is explicit about its permissions so newcomers understand that they too have permission and don’t accidentally cross a boundary without meaning to.
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A lavish welcome is one that is named every Sunday in some way and integrated into all our worship, with our prayers including a wide spectrum of sexuality. Our children must know of how much they are loved and accepted for who they are. It is a place where we name our own prejudice and bias in order to break down stigma and stereotypes. In order to become more aware of others experiences, we must share our stories, become more vulnerable. If we believe our stories are safe to tell, our children will also believe that too. If I can trust this community enough to share my story, others will know that it is safe.
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When asked by the small group – why am I an advocate for Quiltbaggers – I immediately said, “I want to be accepted too.”
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This question also came up – Where do SMC stories get told? the chapbook came to mind – remembering how I got to share my story through the pages of Our Voice is Many where we were invited to write on the topic of sexual orientation and the church. That was almost 7 years ago -while some have told their stories since then I want to continue to encourage the telling of our stories, in
general – what the things that you want others to know about you/ questions you have, things you are struggling with. I’m going to invite us to practice briefly with one other person.
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[Story-telling Practice – Congregation moves into pairs and is invited to do some storytelling – Interplay style]
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Our Voice is Many chapbook – Here is what I wrote, August 2007:
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I have bore the guilt, shame and embarrassment of teenage pregnancy in a community that would not listen to its youth.
I am a birthmother who wore the verbal and sexual oppression of an abusive relationship during my teenage years.
I have been confused by what my body is saying to me during arousal in relationship to both genders and wonder about the spiritual connection between sexuality and intimacy.
I cry because of the lack of safe places to share the hurt, pain, and difficult emotions of people’s experience within the church.
I pray that we might help our children learn quickly about the predators in the world, but also allow them to love deeply as they would naturally.
I hope for intimacy among people that might drive away fear, confusion, and embrace the diverse experience of human sexuality.
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The pregnancy at age 19 changed my life – as I was trapped in a relationship that I could not end. It was like a jolt back to reality. Though it has not been easy to look back on those dark days – what was redeeming was the Mennonite community through bible college and the Mennonite church I was attending in Winnipeg. I was not rejected, rather some even stood by me in solidarity.
My experience as a young person – closed me off from my emotions as a way to protect myself from the pain and loss of giving up my first born son for adoption – the journey back to understanding who I am as a child of God has been a long one. Tomorrow Thalia’s half-brother Mikhael turns 21. He is at a point in this life that he wants little to do with me. I struggle to know how to be welcoming to him …
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Matthew 10: 40-42 –
Whoever receives you receives me and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me…
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As covenant people/acting in solidarity, we commit to reaching out in love, with an abundance of grace, we encourage mindfulness and release our judgement – though at the same time – not be afraid of saying the wrong things. Let us model and be witness to God’s Lavish Love and Welcome in this community, trusting God to provide through God’s saving acts. Let us increase our visibility as people in solidarity and make it obvious. Holy irreverence invites us to wear pink and dance at the boundaries of the institution. Let us move from the weighty sense of obligation to joy and playfulness, cultivating the arts and the soul. As the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence say – Live with more joy and less shame. Let us see this new humanity as we move forward together with courage.
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