Today’s post is from guest blogger Jeff Vomund, who is Chair of the Liturgy Committee at Dignity/Washington.
I have heard the song “Lift Every Voice (and Sing),” known as the Black American National Anthem, sung hundreds of times over the course of my life. (If you’ve never heard it, click here to listen to a moving a cappella version.) The hymn mixes James Weldon Johnson’s stark poetry with his brother John’s determined score. Never has its title and first line felt so viscerally true to me as it has in our increasingly post-fact and post-truth world. The importance of each and “every voice” rings truer than ever.
And while many voices have been raised recently in some form of protest, building bridges between people is also a vital concern for every voice. Creating community has been a driving motive behind Dignity/Washington’s Lenten project: Scripture and Story: Lent through an LGBTQ Lens. Dignity/Washington is a community of LGBTQ Catholics in Washington D.C., as well as friends and allies from across the spectrum of the Christian faith. Scripture and Story is a book of daily reflections for Lent. It contains a short reflection based on the daily readings for each of the 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. These reflections are not just a commentary on the Scriptures but they also relate the lived experiences of the LGBTQ people of faith who authored them.
This project began as a service to Dignity/Washington members as a way to show how unique yet universal each person’s “journey through the desert” is. However, in a world where vocal volume can be equated with truth, we wanted to share our own quiet encouragement to community with others, too. It seems more important than ever to lift up the voices of any who have been outcast or oppressed. This imperative is not true just for the discrimination waged against LGBTQ people by Church leaders. We seek to join a chorus of voices that want to make their presence known to a world in which members of a minority can feel invisible and unimportant.
In no way do we denigrate the faith experiences of those in the majority. Just the opposite. If you look at the reflections of these 47 brave authors, the most obvious characteristic is the universality of all faith experience. We LGBTQ-identifying Catholics have, in so many ways, a journey that looks like any other believer: the struggle to understand God’s call; the desire to love deeply and have meaning; the call to follow Jesus’ example of compassion.
At some point, we are all in the desert, seeking the freedom of a Promised Land that we worry might never be ours. This is true, even as we rejoice when we catch glimpses of that land “across the Jordan” from where safety and peace beckon us. Yet while our journeys traverse a universal arc, we also look through a particular lens–the lens of having to live with being told that even though “God is love,” our love is wrong. That mixed message has driven most LGBTQ-identifying folk to the brink of non-belief. But for these writers, who have stayed the course, surviving the crucible of Church and sex has made them that much more invested in their journey through the desert. Paradoxically, that which the Church identifies as
Yet while our journeys traverse a universal arc, we also look through a particular lens–the lens of having to live with being told that even though “God is love,” our love is wrong. That mixed message has driven most LGBTQ-identifying folk to the brink of non-belief. But for these writers, who have stayed the course, surviving the crucible of Church and sex has made them that much more invested in their journey through the desert. Paradoxically, that which the Church identifies as disorder has shown itself to be just a different way that God has “ordered our steps” as we travel to the Promised Land for which all creation groans.
That symbiosis between our faith and our sexuality is what we most wanted to share with those believers and fellow travelers outside of our community. We offer it, not because our community or any of the individual authors believe we have reached this land of “milk and honey,” but because we are still on that journey. The more people who walk together, the further everyone can go. We offer our voices of faith in the hope that it will encourage other people to share their own stories. We are more convinced than ever that sharing our stories (and listening to others) matters deeply for our world. And we have never been more convicted that for every voice to be lifted each person must add their own–no matter how imperfect–to the chorus.
—Jeff Vomund, Dignity/ Washington, February 26, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.