Flying Back into the Cage: Reflections on reengaging in the Mennonite Church USA (from July 21st, 2015)

First off, I am so glad that the article I wrote meant so much to so many people. Like a good Mennonite, this gratitude came in waves, interspersed with feelings of guilt and embarrassment for the recognition. I really have done nothing to contribute to the Pink Menno campaign and so many fellow LGBTQIA Mennonites put their bodies and hearts on the line, at the recent conference.

I don’t know if I could have or would have wanted to be there. It still deeply impacts me when I feel like anyone in the room does not approve of me. It sends me into a bit of an obsessive spiral and throws me completely off center. The constant, “What are they thinking about me?” can be paralysing, so I avoid those situations as much as possible. This is likely why I avoid MCUSA conferences and engaging on this topic in general. I feel so free in my Church and living in the Bay area. Why would a free bird willingly fly back into a cage?

I believe I outlined these reasons for re-engaging in my recent article. The inspiration for my tone was watching the transforming power of love as a couples therapist. I see that couples are able to change deeply ingrained patterns when they truly understand the impact they have on one another. Couples do this through eye contact, attunement, learning to tell their stories vulnerably and learning to listen vulnerably.

We are missing some variables for accessing this level of empathy in the cyber age, but I thought I would do my best. In my fantasy, my article would have the power to transform people with more conservative views, into acceptance. In actuality though, I think it just helped those who resonate with my message feel understood and heard. For those who inherently think my identity is a sin, well, I think that their Biblical interpretation holds more weight than my personal testimony.

For many centuries The Bible has been both a source of liberation and oppression. We as Anabaptist found spiritual liberation (though it came with 300 years of death and persecution) from the Holy Roman Empire, by finding different interpretations of the Bible. African Americans created spiritual and gospel songs of freedom, while down the street, at church, their imprisoners found justification for their behaviors within interpretations of the Bible. I imagine this trend will continue for some time.

I feel resigned, but not in a bad way. If I work with a couple for sometime and things don’t improve, sometimes the healthiest thing is to break up.

Yesterday, I engaged in a facebook comment chain about the recent change in hiring policies at Goshen. One man stated that he thought it was okay to hire LGBTQ people as janitors, secretaries, food workers, and maintenance workers, but not as professors. When I pointed out the hurtful nature of this comment he stated, “I know my comment is hurtful but, honestly, you’re always going to hurt someone’s feelings.” He goes on to say, “I don’t expect a (Sikh) to be like me. If his feelings are hurt because I am not more like him, that’s not my fault.” (I could write another article on all the layers of racism, classism and patriarchy here.) I am not hurt because he is not like me.  I am hurt because of the devaluing.  Essentially, this person conveys that he no longer cares if he hurts my feelings. His convictions outweigh his ability to feel impacted by my story and my feelings. I feel some relief in understanding that.

To him and others with similar convictions, I say, “I hear that me, just being me, is a threat to you. For that, I feel great sadness. I feel sad that my very existence threatens you and your beliefs.  I get how scary that must feel. Your comments are a projection of this fear that would be damaging for me to internalize. I will not absorb nor defend against your projection.  I cannot unleash a flood of mimetic verbiage. If I did, I would be colluding with the belief that your existence is a threat to me, leading me down a dangerous path towards extremism and annihilation. I don’t want to destroy you because I know that if I need to destroy you to be okay, I will also destroy myself. Dear one, I guess it’s time to break up. Sometimes it is better to walk away than dig our heels further into the ground. We will both be happier. Maybe we will get back together later, or be friends when we find something else in common or when you care about my feelings again.”

So, why would a free bird willingly fly back into the cage? Because I know that I am the one that holds the key.  I can fly away anytime I want.  Maybe I will go to the conference in 2017.


Artist Image: unknown, let me know if you know!