In response to Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31. Written for Open Door UMC on my last day.
I remember the weeks gearing up to my first semester in Seminary. It was a mix of emotions. There was something in the guts of me that was steady, calm, and excited. There was a knowing somewhere that this was the right thing at the right time. There was an understanding that things would continue to unfold for me. Things I couldn’t have guessed or chosen before taking this one first step.
The rest of me was panicked. I made frantic Facebook posts soliciting advice about starting graduate school and asking about school supplies. My love for office supplies and organizational tools knows no limits and I was certain that there must be some magical tool that I absolutely needed before starting. I stood in an aisle at Target for about 35 minutes trying to decide between notebooks. Wide rule or college rule? Wide rule would be more comfortable for me but perhaps college rule was more professional. Like, someone was going to take a look at my notebook and say, bright pink AND wide rule???? This girl clearly doesn’t know what she’s doing. Get her out of here….
Obviously my anxiety had nothing to do with notebooks and everything to do with worrying that I wouldn’t fit. I wasn’t worried the notebook would be wrong, I was worried that *I* would be wrong. I’m queer, a feminist, body positive, sex positive, a harm reductionist, mouthy, and kinda crass. Not to mention the fact that I regularly critiqued both academic and christian institutions. Would seminary really be the “right” place for me? Would I fit? What in the world was I doing?
For the first few months I laid low. I didn’t talk much in class and instead I tried to listen. I could tell you that was some tactic about being humble and learning from other people, afterall that’s what I told myself, but it’s not true. Really I was just surveying the level of threat. I was listening to hear that I didn’t belong. I was listening for what could hurt me. And I found it.
Now some might say I found it because that’s what I was listening for. And that’s true. But I also found it because it was there.
I have a real love hate relationship with academia. I love learning and being in a classroom with people interested in similar things. But I hate the elitism of those spaces. I hate that those spaces are only available to those who can afford them, meaning they have both the money and the time. I’m frustrated by the ways my classroom discusses communities I’m a part of as if they are cutting edge instead of foundational. I get irritated when we read theorists who seem to have taken working class wisdom, dressed it up in fancy words, and claimed it as original. I watch as people give utmost reverence to these theorists while wholly dismissing women like my Grandmother who are just as brilliant but don’t use the right words.
Like Pastor Brian most of what I learned, I learned from my Grandmother. In fact I’ve started writing down her sayings when I go home. That way I can remember them. They are the metaphors and parables I go to again and again. And I’ve learned to translate between my worlds.
Well that’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. = Gratitude
My getup and go got up and went. = Burnout
Looks like you’re about all in but the shoe strings. = A Need For Self Care
Don’t look like you’re any worse for wear. = Resilience
You just gotta pick the fly poop outta the pepper. = Discernment
My Grandmother is one of the kindest people I know. But that doesn’t mean that she’s a pushover. In fact during my recent trip across the country my sweetheart and I decided to splurge and stay in a hotel in Florida that had a view of a lake. We got in late and left just a few hours later. They had bedbugs. We were told we had to talk to the manager the next day to get a refund but when we called they refused to give us a refund because we had “used the room”. Oscar, my sweetheart, just looked at me and said, I think you’re just gonna have to Connie Barnow them. Needless to say, we were refunded in full.
My Grandmother’s wisdom isn’t for show. It’s practical, authentic, and meant to be shared. There is no ivory tower. There is no putting on airs. In fact if she caught you doing so she might just look at you and say, “yanno if b.s. were snowflakes you’d be a damned blizzard”. My Grandmother’s wisdom isn’t shy or quiet.
But our reading today tells us that Wisdom cries out.
Now I have to admit that when I first came to Open Door my process was similar. The first few months I sat quietly in worship, in coffee hour, in church council meetings. And while I didn’t agonize over notebooks I did spend approximately a week considering what outfit I would wear on my first Sunday. When I’m dressing for myself my clothes tend to be sleeveless, tight, and have a lower neckline. But that didn’t seem “church appropriate”. I worried that if I came dressed as myself it would be obvious how much I didn’t fit.
There were so many reasons why someone could say I didn’t belong on this chancel or at this pulpit. My age. My gender. My politics. My queerness. My community. My theology. Nothing about any of these things seem “church appropriate”. So just like at school I put on a thin veil of armor to protect myself from all of you. It was an armor made of assumptions so tightly knit together that nothing that would hurt me could pass through.
I made assumptions about what your lives were like and what you would expect of me. I made assumptions about your theology and how you wore it in the world. I made a lot of assumptions. Some of them were right. Most of them were wrong.
I still edit how I dress and what I say. I can assure you my Grandma doesn’t call b.s. but instead is much more to the point. There are still ways that we as a church have clung to old notions about what is and is not church appropriate. It is part of what keeps us from the radical welcome that we seek. But there are also ways that we as a church have defied those notions. There have been moments in prayer time or in small group that folks have shared things that would have scandalized other churches. It may have even scandalized some of the folks in the room. But there was room for it here. There was room for scandal.
Over the years I’ve only brought a couple of my partners home to meet my family. And nearly all of them have been scandalized. They came from different family backgrounds than mine and couldn’t believe how freely my family discussed sexuality or swore or let bodily functions fly. Their families were much more subdued, respectable, polite. But yanno what? The scandal did them good. Over time I watched how spending time with my family loosened them up and gave them a new idea of what is possible. They lost some of their manners and found some new ones.
I wonder if scandal is where inspiration lies. I wonder if scandal isn’t just Wisdom shouting. Afterall some of our manners in the church are pretty absurd. For example it’s permissible for the church to say that my life and my love is incompatible with Christian teaching. But it’s not permissible for me to say the word fart from the pulpit. One might say that would go over like a fart in church. But only one of those things is truly harmful.
My family is far from perfect but I’ve always felt like they had the manners that mattered. They may not live up to other people’s ideas of proper but you would always be welcome in their home, they would always help you out if they could, and they would always treat you with kindness and respect. Regardless of whether or not they disagreed with you, regardless of whether you lived up to their standards or not.
Since I have been at Open Door I have seen these same sorts of kindnesses. I’ve watched someone’s buttons get pushed and seen them respond with a genuine kindness. I’ve watched people turn what was available into a sense of abundance. I’ve watched people give of their time, their spirit, their money, their heart. I’ve watched people stretch and learn in order to offer a more honest welcome.
I’ve told Brian again and again how lucky I feel to have landed here. It was the exact right place. It was the right amount of challenge and comfort. As individuals you have offered me grace, care, concern, and support. Collectively you have offered me a sense of community and call. Whether you know it or not you have reassured me that I have a place, both in this vocation and in the wider church. You let me know I fit.
I have heard Pastors speak about the sense of honor they felt in being able to do their job. I never really understood it. But to be so fully entrusted with the delicate personal and spiritual moments of someone’s life is the greatest honor. You all have shared so much with me, invited me in when you didn’t have to. Thank you for all you have offered and all you have taught.
Wisdom comes in many forms. It comes in our Grandmother’s sayings and our own common sense. It comes from magnificent books and quiet, humble, moments of intuition. It is woven through our body, both our individual bodies and this collective body, this community we call a church. There is such wisdom in this place, within each of us. It is a wisdom capable of welcoming scandal, which is to say discomfort. It is a wisdom capable of offering love and grace even when it is a challenge. It is a wisdom that knows somewhere that there is no such thing as church appropriate. It is wisdom that understands that we all fit, we have to, or we aren’t the church. It is a wisdom that is still learning, one that cries out for us to do better, love deeper, learn more, and choose the manners that matter.
My time here has been a blessing to me. You have been a blessing to me. You are now woven into the wisdom that is my body. You will go with me wherever I am. You will continue to teach me. And for that I am truly honored. Thank you.