Resurrection is such a joyous word. It calls forth life where there once was death and is traditionally greeted with resounding alleluias. This direct link between resurrection and glee has made it difficult for me to wade into the waves of resurrection I had the opportunity to experience at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I’ve been off-line for the past couple of weeks as the “look at all the cool stuff we did” posts grated at my raw spirit while I struggled to find meaning in the intensity of an event that simultaneously took major steps to proclaim the gospel while still revealing how many gaps there are in living that gospel out within our walls.
Long before I boarded my flight to Salt Lake City, I had already recognized that much of my ministry would be rooted in presence. As someone who hears that people like them* don’t exist on a daily basis (avg. 15-19 times a day at #GC78) I understood that a large part of my work would involve simply being there as myself. I knew this work would be challenging, but was entirely unprepared for what happened.
I was present at every worship service offered by General Convention. Yet even as I was in awe at how many different cultures were celebrated and named within that space, I struggled to stay. From the opening worship service to the closing there was not a single official Eucharist that didn’t imply that people like me* don’t exist. Added to this, before that first service I had been told by two armed security guards and an official from the church that the direct action for justice I had learned in the Episcopal Service Corps and campus ministry would lead to me being exiled from the convention if I dared to try anything like it again.
Hands shaking, I cried out for something, anything to help me stay present. I stumbled across a piece of paper and a pen. Weeping I struggled to find words that would help me stay. In the music video for the Canticle of the Turning, which is a paraphrase of the Magnificat, there is a picture of a building which has the phrase “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes” spray painted on its side. So, trembling, I told the truth and created a sign that read “I am not a son or a daughter but I am still, now and always, A Child of God, beloved, made worthy and a part of the everlasting heritage”**. Adapting a carabineer clip to serve as a pin I fastened it to my back. As I did so I trusted that the God who called me to serve in such a painful place could turn that flimsy piece of paper into a mighty shield through faith in the same God that made those words true.
Barely a few moments after I had taken up my paper shield of faith, I was approached by an older woman who asked to read it. When she had finished she reached for it, to take it from me, saying “I don’t believe that’s appropriate”. I had to grab her hand, and tears poured down my face as I said “no, I need this”. This was an unfortunate adaptation, for what was in my heart was “no, WE need this”.
In that moment and at many others throughout the week I was brought face to face with the years of shame I had internalized about crying. From the myth “boys don’t cry” to being exiled from my IEP meetings for tears I have spent my entire life hearing that to cry is to be weak, an inconvenience or at the very least unprofessional. But at convention that shame was broken down as I learned that my presence, tears and all, could be transformed into a powerful witness.
This is resurrection. We didn’t solve all of the gender discrimination issues within our church, but I was thanked by a young trans man who could see himself in my testimony on C037. We certainly didn’t fix racism, but in faith we heard the voices of six young people from widely different places who boldly shared their experiences of race in the Episcopal Church. While we still might be surrounded by a “decline narrative” we took huge steps in reshaping how we view and fund evangelism.
When I think about the resurrection I found at convention it feels very different from that which is portrayed as “normative”. I’m not giddy with joy, or running out to tell people how I had an amazing time. Instead I’ve found myself in stillness and prayer, reflecting on the gritty work of resurrection. To be resurrected and to proclaim resurrection in that space I cried a lot. I wept and shouted, I hid and returned. The resurrection I experienced at General Convention didn’t come all at once, and certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience.
Despite the pain and hurt, and the rawness that lingers, it was worthwhile. For I’ve found that what defines resurrection isn’t comfort but transformation. Resurrection isn’t just Easter day, but it is the oblation, the holy offering of oneself, to God’s purpose each and every day. To live a resurrected life means staying present when common sense has long sense been reduced to folly and reason is completely unreasonable. Resurrection was at General Convention, in tears and laughter, joy and pain. I left a different person that I arrived, transformed by the people I met and able to trust that my presence led to transformation in others.
This is resurrection, and while I’m not yet ready to say I’m looking forward to it, I’ll certainly be there to do this all over again in 2018.
*People whose genders are both, neither, a blend of, or without reference to masculinity and femininity
**”part of the everlasting heritage” was a direct reference to Eucharistic prayer B which was the form for that morning and includes the exclusive phrase “everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters” (BCP pg. 369)