Three weeks ago I fell and suffered a concussion. I rested for a few days and then returned to work. I monitored my pain and fatigue levels and kept an eye out for any impact on cognition. What I didn’t understand, however, is that I didn’t actually understand the impact the concussion was having on me. It was far less tangible than pain or fatigue or forgetting words. It took some difficult experiences to alert me to the reality that my emotions and my perceptions of things had been significantly affected. Admittedly, this was much more frightening and while I’ve taken more time to try to recover and heal, I’m left with the lingering uncertainty of how long it will take before I feel normal again – or if things will ever fully get back to normal.
Sound familiar? As this pandemic drags on, there is a lot of conversation about “getting back to normal.” On Sunday I experienced my first, socially distanced but in-person church service in my small New Brunswick town where there haven’t been any cases of Covid. It was an interesting experience of feeling both familiarity and change. For some, the longing to get back to normal is translated into a rugged individualism that seems to rebel against imposed safety guidelines. But it is also encouraging to see so many recognize that we can’t just go back to business as usual. They are embracing the challenge to seize this collective experience to change our normal.
In an “An open letter to my fellow white gay cis men: there should be no 'returning to normal' after this,” Peter Knegt challenges his peers saying, “Gay culture has grown toxic with unchecked privilege. It's time for us to reset.” Knegt calls for fearlessness saying, “There is a revolution happening right now — one of the most powerful global mobilizations on systemic racism in history. There is also a global pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the physical, mental, and financial well-being of so many people around us. We are in the middle of modern society's most monumental reset, and we need to do whatever we can to help it end well for those much more marginalized than us. And that includes doing our best to reset ourselves and the culture we've helped create.”
After church on Sunday I met with three moms of gay sons. All expressed the difficult journey their loved ones have had with the church and the impact that has seemed to have had on their faith. Together we wondered what kind of shifts the church might be in for post-pandemic. Faith communities that offer conditional love, use shame to motivate compliance, and pick and choose which moral dictates will carry the sentence of banishment, desperately need a reset. The harm that happens within churches doesn’t just happen to the people in the pews. Every time a painful story is shared, so many exiles are triggered or re-traumatized. I see it time and time again. Despite the plea to see that “not all Christians” inflict judgment, exclusion, and pain, it’s understandable that to so many it feels unsafe to risk giving the church another chance. In a vote that couldn’t have been closer, 52% of our friend June Joplin’s congregation voted to fire her after she came out to them as transgender. Painful for June, painful for the church, but also painful to so many trans and other LGBQ2+ folks as the story hit media around the world. Note: If you haven’t followed June’s story, view her coming out sermon here and as a show of support become a follower of her youtube channel here. Perhaps this decision can be seen as a microcosm of this tension between going back to “normal” and the challenge before us to redefine what normal is.
There is no question that such matters are complex and challenging. There are no quick, easy answers. We do well to resist levying the same kind of judgement that wounded us in the first place. I often need to be reminded of the wisdom of Mirslav Volf: “The harder I pursue justice, the blinder I become to the injustice I myself perpetuate.” To embody the subversive love of Jesus calls us to move beyond dismissive binaries that perpetuate an “us vs. them” mentality. Pursuing justice cannot be separated from the work of cultivating the Beloved community where all can come and find belonging.
So while it can seem safer and more comfortable to simply go back to the way things were, if we are attentive we see the opportunity for new commitments to support deeper flourishing and truer justice. But it may well require that we hit the pause button, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves, “How would this look or feel differently if I was energized by love rather than fear?” This spiritual practice is critical in these days of uncertainty and redefinition.
I was reminded recently that the scriptures were written for communities – not individuals. The comment was made that the admonishments are often too hard and the expectations too much for an individual to live up to. But a community can take the exhortation and seek to do it together. The challenges before us can seem overwhelming, so it is important that we remember we don’t have to try to do it all alone.
Generous Space will not and cannot be the same post-pandemic. The first leg of adjusting to Covid resulted in a lot of new online programming to mitigate the social isolation we experienced. As the summer progresses and staff take well-deserved vacation, this next phase will invite more time for pause, reflection, and listening to God’s still small voice in leading us into our new normal.
I wouldn’t have chosen a concussion as a path to expose difficult things in my life that need more attention. I’m not thrilled to recognize the ways that past trauma still affects me. None-the-less, this opportunity invites me to choose love over fear as I seek to welcome deeper healing.
We wouldn’t have chosen a pandemic. But these strange days seem to be more deeply catalyzing collective action. The late Congressman John Lewis said, “If you're not hopeful and optimistic, then you just give up. You have to take the long hard look and just believe that if you're consistent, you will succeed.” At Generous Space, we’re in it for the long haul – cultivating beautiful, messy community where people can not only be themselves and know themselves to be Beloved and to belong – but where we together hold on to hope with resilient faith that it is God’s heart that we flourish.
Just before the pandemic started, we re-articulated the mission of Generous Space: “We work to dismantle religious-based harm, pursue intersectional justice, and celebrate LGBTQ2+ lives in both the church and our world.”
The trauma of religious-based harm must get our attention and we must take consistent, restorative action. The call for intersectional justice must get our attention and we must take consistent, restorative action. And we must seize this opportunity to support the flourishing and celebration of LGBTQ2+ lives. This is our mission and it is to this work that we will fearlessly apply our love, passion, and commitment with a holy imagination for a new normal.