On an August afternoon last fall, I sat in front of my computer screen with tears streaming down my face. Maybe you did as well. For plastered all over my Facebook wall were photos of so many proudly eating a chicken sandwich in the name of American values, many in the name of Jesus.
I'm guessing you saw them, too.
Sure, you can say this was a free speech issue, but somehow I don't remember this same general population organizing a Dixie Chicks Appreciation Day after the always vocal country music group also had exercised their free speech.
As someone trying to find my place within the Christian faith, I initially believed this to be a major setback. This was not my Christianity on display. This was not representative of what I believe. Surely there was a different message of Christianity we might proclaim on this day.
An e-mail conversation with a pastor later that night helped me find hope. She mentioned the Reconciling Ministries Network.
Now, I need to mention that it didn't come as a shock to me that she was a member. I knew I belonged to a church where it was okay, even encouraged, to ask the hard questions. It was a safe place for me to struggle with my faith at times. And it was okay for me to ask for guidance regarding my frustrations over a chicken sandwich.
But, I was a bit surprised that there was a huge movement already in place within the church for inclusion, real inclusion (and not just the "love the sinner, hate the sin" kind).
I read all about this movement for reconciliation. I "liked" Reconciling Ministries Network on Facebook. I occasionally shared something uplifting and loving that came across my newsfeed. I went purple for Spirit Day. I started a difficult conversation with a friend (privately) who proclaimed (publicly) a different Christian view via the pulpit of Facebook.
I struggled. I read my Bible. I talked to my pastors. I craved more opportunities to talk to others who shared my convictions.
Finally, when I could no longer contain the stirrings within my heart, I wrote a letter to the editor about why my Christian family supports Marriage Equality.
And with it, you could say I officially came out as an ally.
Of course, writing this letter was not something I did on a whim. I had a draft on my computer for over a month. I told my husband about it. When I read him a few bits and pieces and he wanted to hear more, I kept writing. When I told a few close friends about it, and when they didn't dismiss it (or me) as completely crazy, I found the courage to keep revising. When I shared it with some like-minded members of my faith community and they told me to go for it, I finally hit "submit" to my local online paper with a silent prayer.
Please Lord, use these words you've placed upon my heart as you will. Let them reveal a glimmer of your love.
Still, I was prepared for the backlash. I was prepared for cries of "heretic" and the Bible-thumping comments telling me I need to read my Bible (or get one, for that matter).
You see, I grew up in small-town America. I grew up in a place where there were significantly more churches than coffee shops, but I don't know that I ever felt welcome in any them. I grew up with different ideas of faith and God and love than what the church was sending me. I grew up stubbornly believing that God's love and grace was for ALL of us, even if we weren't completely sure about how it all worked. I grew up wanting to ask questions, dig deeper, and challenge what I was hearing about the exclusivity of faith.
I still feel this way today. In fact, I feel more this way today than ever. So, I was not naive to the fact that my coming out letter would not sit well with everyone. But, I really believed that with the support of family, friends, and many within my current faith community, I could handle the worst.
What I wasn't prepared for was the outpouring of support and love.
I wasn't prepared for the amount of friends and family who also found the courage to say, "I feel this way, too!" I wasn't prepared for the responses from some of my gay friends which brought me to tears.
But this time the tears came from a place of hope. Could God really be using me in some way? Am I, too, welcome to be a part of The Church?
Recently, I sat in my adult Sunday School class while my pastor spoke about grace within the United Methodist tradition. She described how, in the midst of the grace that is always present for all of us, we often find ourselves in profound moments of justifying grace - moments of affirmation when we recognize that we, too, are loved. We, too, are welcomed. We, too, are forgiven.
For me, my coming out as an ally has been inextricably intertwined with my experience of justifying grace.
What is not completely lost on me, though, is the irony of this situation. While my experience has been so very humbling and faith-affirming, I know that for many, the experience of coming out is anything but. This has to change.
I think this is what makes me feel so passionately about continuing to push myself to speak up. Even when it is uncomfortable. Even when I'm sharing not necessarily with like-minded members of the faith, but with that same Facebook community which initially brought me to tears. Even when I have doubts.
Because above all else, I believe that this message and experience of grace is for all. And I want to help proclaim this message.
Even me? Yes. And even you.
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