Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oh Lord, Make Me New: Reflections on Creating Change

When I first became employed by Integrity, I made a series of phone calls to our members to situate myself in the work and introduce myself. As a long-time gay rights>LGB>LGBTQIA equality activist (since the 70’s, where I lived in Dupont Circle in D.C. and worked at Lambda Rising) I have witnessed decades of contention over where our work should focus, and I wanted to feel out where folks saw us now. Unsurprisingly, I kept hearing, “what will we do, now that marriage is finished?” and “we’re exhausted; our members have all retired to rest and recover.”

Burnout is a very real phenomenon. Exhaustion is a by-product of having too-few resources and fighting not just singular “bad” politicians, but entire institutions built to bolster this very inequity.  It relies on our exhaustion, and it depends on some of us being very comfortable, too comfortable in fact to always see how others suffer.

This is the downside of so-called marriage equality. We have exhausted ourselves doing laudable, important work—absolutely—but we find ourselves in some ways no closer to equality than we were before the “true blessing.”  Hate crimes are still happening; women still earn less; people of color experience these disparities of violence and economy in ways that cannot fail to shock those of us paying attention.

Thank God we have a relationship with Christ! We need him now more than ever!

During the beginning of this month I traveled to Creating Change in Denver to participate in the Transgender Leadership Exchange under the aegis of the LGBTQ Task Force. I spent a day in a Faith workshop, with other activists, church leaders, rabbis, shaman, druids, and priests. We are nothing if not spiritually eclectic! The focus of the workshop was “how do we care for ourselves so we can care for our community?”  Fatigue was a spectral participant. But we were present enough to critique the rhetoric of “anti-oppression.” I think we all intuitively understood it was the “anti” that was sapping our ranks.

Surrendering to God’s mercy means giving up the fight. What I resist persists. In earth-bound strategies for policy change both in our Church and without it can feel like only some of us “do the work” while others appear complacent. The wounds we've borne and the trauma we've experienced—living as lesser citizens, and under the constant thrum of violence—carries into our work and we feel attacked, beaten up. Often by our own. Surrendering seems counter-intuitive; haven’t we gotten this far by forceful demands to be recognized as equals?

In this regard, fighting for equality in our church has been devastating. It took a lot of human will and energy against a deep-seated culture of “we've always done it this way.” We come to the work already tired, we come to our church to be revitalized but we find no peace there either.  And the work is not done.

At the leadership summit I experienced a lot of hostility towards marriage equality. “It’s not equality when only some of us can afford to do it!” a young white transwoman said. “It’s not equality when Latina transwomen have a one-in-eight chance of being murdered,” snapped another.  I was in a room with twenty, mostly youthful (to me, under 35!) activists. They were bitterly angry and hurt by a movement they saw as working only for white equality, only for rights for the wealthy. They were there to hold our movement accountable, to say “we who are dying no longer accept your taking money and energy from us to do work that is not for us.”

I could hear that. As a white, 54 year old transmasculine person, I can finally relax. I mostly pass nowadays, and it’s extraordinarily liberating to not feel the heat of stares and stings of remarks, not to mention violence. But as a woman, I experienced the abuse, the ridiculous salaries, the generous hostility; I have been violently harassed, assaulted, and raped. As a lesbian, I've been chased by cars, followed by strangers, denied jobs, and even housing. In this I feel a kinship with my trans*sisters. But what about my own exhaustion? I’m weary! Some days I just don’t have anything to give. I’m hurt, I’m angry, I’m sick, and I’m tired. I have fibromyalgia, arthritis, headaches, depression. How can I show up for justice when even in our own community there seems to be none?

This is where my practice must begin. On my knees. I cannot, we cannot, fight oppression without exhausting ourselves. In my earnest desire for freedom, I forget sometimes that I am already free. I am a being without limit, without end, because I am a child of God. I have a relationship with the only One, the only thing with meaning, the only place of real love. If I am to attend to the earthly work I am so compelled by, this work of LGBTQ justice, I must gently remind myself where true power lies. There, there is nothing to fight. I can stand my ground, rally my congregation, lobby my bishop, but when I forget what’s real and what’s meaningful, this work will become very tiring indeed. I begin to resent others who “work less.” I begin to believe that the work depends on me to get done. I forget there is a deeper agenda, an inspirited agenda, working through me and for me. And I forget that you are my ally, that we’re in this together, and I begin to recreate you as my enemy.

So as I learned at Creating Change, if you are tired, rest Sister. Rest Brother. Some of us will carry others now. Our weariness needs attention and our spirits need loving kindness. And still, I cannot mistake the freedom of some as the freedom of all, nor mistake my exhaustion for mine alone. Let us rejoice that we know the truth, and that we are on a mission to carry this truth everywhere: that God loves us all, that we are all equally endowed with grace and love! I am learning, a day at a time, not only to give my hurt and my weariness over to Christ, but to offer yours too. Only then can I be open to hear that there is more work, and that I can participate in ways that stretch but don’t break me, because I have found the source of illimitable strength.

“Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Oh Lord, make me new. Amen.

Sam Peterson is the Development Director at Integrity USA

1 comment:

Nancy Mott said...

Thank you, thank you, dear Sam Peterson​! So much truth here. "I cannot mistake the freedom of some as the freedom of all..." Advice to rest is particularly hard for us senior oldsters to hear. How much time do we have to rest??! Time seems already short. And as you point out, so much more to do! Yet the counsel to rest and care for ourselves spiritually is so important.