While being tested for the coronavirus last week (it came back negative, I am fine), I had a series of conversations I couldn't shake:
Scheduler: What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a pastor.
Scheduler: OK, so an essential worker.
Triage nurse: What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a pastor.
Triage nurse: (to herself) Essential....
Nurse practitioner: What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a pastor.
Nurse practitioner: (as she annotates the test order) Essential!
In each case, I responded to the the health care workers, the people who spend all day in masks and gloves and gowns, that I am not an essential worker. I shared that my church is not convening in person because we don't want to risk being a site of death or give the actual essential workers - those people who keep other people alive - any more work.
All of these conversations were brief, but they have stayed with me. They stayed with me because I have never lived in a world where a Christian priest is essential.
In my world until now church has been an option (and an oft-forgotten one) and worship a commodity (rather than a practice of community).
I know, of course, that my work being declared essential is part of a much larger political battle. Yet I wonder if, in their absence in the midst of so much shared pain, church and worship and their trained ritual workers might some day come to be treated as essential.
Please don't hear this as pouting about our previous lack of stature. Christianity's failure to be relevant is its own fault. You know our sins, our centuries of betraying our own gospels.
But what would the world look like if offerings of peace, prayer, teaching, feasting, healing, song, time, talent, and treasure were held dear?
Perhaps we wouldn't need so many ICU beds for the next pandemic. Perhaps we wouldn't even need so many protestors in the streets.
When I preach, when I am in any leadership role, I use the words and phrases gay, big homo, #dyke, #LGBTQIA, and #queer to describe myself and my people.
Once at an “open and affirming” (#ONA) church I served #God through, a congregant asked to meet with me. He let me know that my use of the word queer really bothered him and he would like me to stop.
In full pastoral (and very-much-benefitting-from-my-proximity-to-white-male-privilege) mode, I used my reflective listening skills and then taught him about how the history of the word and the choice of many of us queers to reclaim it (certainly not all - there can be no all in a population as gloriously diverse as ours).
But in the end, this was a leader in a space that purported to be open and to be affirming of LGBTQIA+ people who wanted to police the language of one of those people when referring to their own people.
This was a retired, white, cisgendered male of some means who felt that his discomfort was far my important than my self-expression and personhood.
Kind of like how white people tell #BIPOC that if they will just dress, walk, sing, talk, everything “right” (aka white) then #racism will go away.
Here’s the thing about #liberation: We only get to participate in it if we are willing to put our discomforts aside, to put our very selves to one side.
Predominantly straight churches are not actually #ONA if they don’t welcome the #sissy and the #butch and the #genderqueer and the #transmasculine just as we are rather than as spectacle or to make the straight people feel good and generous.
Likewise white people do not get to claim we are #antiracist if we are actually #assimilationists, if we only embrace #BIPOC who act or sound or preach like us.
In the gospels, we are taught that #Jesus cast out demons. It seems that the demon straight people and white people (and any people who find themselves in a category of unearned advantage) need to be liberated from is that assumption that we are the arbiters of what that liberation looks like.
And it seems that we need to pay closer attention to the #Christ, because there is nothing in a story of death and #resurrection that could ever lead us to believe the work will be painless, that it will not cost us everything.