I’m pretty sure my upbringing told me not to be okay with this.

(I’m going to get kinda vulnerable here. For the time being I’m going to leave comments open but if there starts to be any fighting there I’m just going to close them down)

I guess I’ve found a church. I like the services, I like the people, and I like the minister. I really like the minister. Which sounds like a good thing, and it is a good thing, but it’s also challenging for me to admit it.

Because, you see, the minister is a straight, white, cisgender, 50-something man. And for the last ten or so years among my social circles, straight, white, cisgender, 50-something men have been tantamount to evil incarnate. They make the laws we hate, they make decisions about our lives, our futures; they oppress us and often without a thought. They govern. Simply: they are not nice, affirming, relatable people. They are not people who recognize their privilege or who know how to step back and allow those who they obviously feel superior to to voice their opinions. They are unwavering in the assumed truth of their knowledge and unkind in their actions.

They are Other.

And naturally I have trouble entering into an I-Thou relationship with somebody who is so… other. I do not want to be in an I-Thou relationship with Glenn Beck, and I certainly don’t want to be in one with any other form of hegemonic evil incarnate, thankyouverymuch.

Except… well…

I like this guy.

I think he has great stuff to say. I like his sermons, and the couple times I’ve spoken with him, I’ve appreciated what he has said. He seems to respect boundaries (anybody who doesn’t assume I want to hug them gains BIG points in my book). He has mentioned privilege more than once, and I have it on the authority of a friend that he’s cool with privilege being pointed out to him.

But, still, it feels weird.

Because I really have spent almost 12 years of my life being taught all that stuff I talked about above. When I was looking for a church in the area I tried out services where I knew the minister was queer before I decided to give my new church a try.

How have I made it through 23 years without somebody slapping me?!

Seriously. How? Folks, when your friends are displaying this level of asshattery you can slap them–at least verbally.

Before you all start with the lecturing, do me a favor and please read the rest of this post!

In Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s book “Surprised by God” she describes how when she began attending Shul on Friday night she’d wear her clubbing clothes so she could go out right after. As her attendance became a regular weekly event, she started dressing more conservatively, more respectfully. But, she wrote, she doesn’t regret dressing like she did at first, because at that time in her life she needed to know that she would be accepted, just as she was. Once she knew that, then it was okay to fit in, to conform, to be at peace with more traditional things.

When I first said to myself in Maine “alright, dude, you’re going to church. And it’s okay.” I was able to see somebody I related to on more than one level in the pulpit. I knew it was fine to be myself because I saw it was fine for the minister to be herself. I had to grow comfortable with just being at a church, to know that in that context who I was was okay.

I do wonder if I’d have stayed at the church in Maine if the minister had been an older, straight, white guy. Obviously there’s no way for me to know. I like to think that I would have been able to see beyond my own pre-judgment and assumptions and hear the message that was being spoken, but part of me thinks I wouldn’t have. I’m fairly certain I’d never have reached out to the minister as I need to then.

One thing that minister in Maine taught me was about growth, and how it happens. There’s a place where we are comfortable, and a place were we are just uncomfortable enough to grow, and another place where we are so radically uncomfortable that we dig in our heels and refuse to grow. When you are first thrown into new situation that’s so different from who and where you currently are, you are automatically pretty high in the discomfort zone. And so if somebody tries to push you when you are there, you dig in your heels. You can’t grow.

Church was uncomfortable for me at first. I was in the “I can grow” zone, but just barely. Having a queer minister helped me feel comfortable because who she was did not challenge me–what she SAID did, but who she was did not. So, I grew. Now I am at the place where church is comfortable, and I can trust some, I can be pushed more. I can be made to grow again. I’m not being shoved up into the “digging my heels in refusing to grow” place.

One of my friends said that one of her mentors refers to things like this as AGEs – Another Growth Experience. I mentioned it before, months ago, that I never met with my minister in her office. We conversed almost exclusively via Facebook and very occasionally after service. Last week I emailed my new minister and I asked, “How can I get involved at the church?” the response, quite reasonably, was, “why don’t you come in some time next week and we can talk?”

And after a couple minutes hesitation I tapped out, “I’d love to come in and chat sometime.”

And I wasn’t even lying.

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5 Responses to “I’m pretty sure my upbringing told me not to be okay with this.”

  1. That’s a very nice reflection. I don’t think you’ll get flack for it: you’re just being honest. Everybody has prejudices. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you bring up the issue of growth. We come to church to be comforted and embraced, but also to be pushed lovingly toward greater spiritual and ethical growth. Growing past our prejudices is part of the process, hopefully. But it’s something we can only do with the help of the Other. Those we are uncomfortable with, for whatever reason, can often by our best teachers. Hope you have a great time with your new minister and community.

  2. I know this is damn silly, but I got teary reading this. Zone 3 is not only a barrier to growth, but to fulfillment and happiness. It is sort of a, do unto others what has been done unto me. place. Rightly or wrongly I saw you straddling that line between 2 and 3. What amazes me is that at 23 you are figuring all this out (I know this kind of agism probably pisses you off), but I know ever so many that don’t figure this out for another 10 or 20 years if then. Our prejudices are usually there for a reason (usually experience and fear). Anyway I think this is a wonderful post.

  3. Nobody said growth was easy. It’s easy to feel righteous and worthy when contrasting oneself against an unflattering image of the Other, especially if the image is crude and exaggerated. It’s much harder to admit and overcome the truth that even we ourselves may have more in common with that unflattering image than we care to see.

    If you look at the history of our denomination, Unitarianism was about our responsibility to work out our own redemption through cultivation of moral character. Universalism was about how God sees though and forgives our own, and others’, differing moral shortcomings and recognizes the essential worth we all share, and so redeems everyone.

    So, when you finally do feel ready to attempt an I-Thou relationship with Glenn Beck, you will have reached the master level of Unitarian-Universalism. (From your post about Kate Braestrup and the evangelists, I would say you’re on the right track.)

  4. When I started attending Quaker meeting almost 20 years ago, I identified as a radical lesbian feminist. Men weren’t allowed in my house, I didn’t read books by men. You may know the drill. One of the most surprising things for me was to discover at the meeting straight white men who seemed like really decent human beings I wouldn’t mind knowing. And eventually learning from. My partner–also a radical lesbian feminist at the time–underwent gender transition about five years later, and I think if I hadn’t met those men at Quaker worship and started to have these crazy ideas about men it would have been much harder for me to hang in during the transition.

    I just found your blog because a Facebook friend linked to your most recent post. I’m enjoying browsing through the archives.

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