Texts: “I Am the Rain” by Avijeet Das * Mark 9:38-41 (“Whoever is not against us is for us”)
Today on P.I.E. Day, we are focusing on Mill Woods United’s status as an Affirming community, one that welcomes people from sexual and gender minorities.
There are many reasons for a church to be Affirming. Most of us view it as the right thing to do. Some of us appreciate how it stretches our understandings of tradition and Scripture. Many of us hope it might attract more people to the church; and others of us are LGBTQ ourselves or have family members who are queer.
But what about people who are not LGBTQ or who do not belong to any oppressed group? Does the church’s Affirming status benefit those of us who check all the boxes of privilege — people who are straight, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, and male; who are Canadian, educated, employed, espoused, and pensioned? And this week, I can add vaccinated to this list of privileges. Kim and I received our first AstraZeneca shot on Thursday, which reflects our privilege to have been born in the late 1950s. Should people of privilege like me care about a community’s treatment of sexual minorities and other oppressed groups?
This was a question I first confronted 45 years ago when I moved to Toronto to attend university. In 1976, my older brother was already living in Toronto, and I was puzzled by one of the roommates in the communal house where he lived. His friend was a male nurse, and he seemed odd to me in an indefinable way. Paul told me he was a homosexual, a word I had not previously encountered. Paul explained this meant he was a man who was more attracted to men than he was to women. But the penny did not fully drop until Paul mentioned a celebrity who was assuredly gay – the showman Liberace.
My mother had always gushed over Liberace, and now I realized why. Her infatuation with the flamboyant Liberace posed less threat to her relationship with my father than if she had gushed over a more traditional male star like Lorne Green.
In subsequent years at university, I became active in student politics, and I worked with many openly gay and lesbian activists as well as students of colour.
A debate often raged among us: did straight people benefit from gay oppression? Did men benefit from women’s oppression; and did people of European descent benefit from racial discrimination?
Most of us decided that people of privilege did not benefit from the oppression of others. We simply had an easier time when dealing with the police, finding employment, and so on.
People from oppressed groups have good reasons to push for greater equality and inclusion. But people of privilege like myself also have a stake in social change.
All of us are more than just the identity boxes we check. We all contain multitudes, to use Walt Whitman’s phrase. At a deep level, we are family to one another.
As a child, I was encouraged to be masculine. But if I had grown up in a society in which women and queer people had no less privilege than straight men, it might have been easier to live a more rounded life.
If I had not unconsciously felt pressure to emulate traditional male stars like Lorne Green and if I had not been afraid to exhibit some of Liberace’s flamboyance, my life would have been freer, I believe.
All of us have both masculine and feminine traits. All of us are descended from common ancestors. All of us are at least a little queer. So, the more that churches and other institutions welcome people of all gender expressions, sexual orientations, and racial backgrounds, the more all of us will be free. In such communities, we have more space to embrace all parts of ourselves and be more open to embracing other people in their diverse beauty.
This does not mean I have to stretch my lifestyle in a way that makes me uncomfortable. It means that Mill Woods United’s Affirming status makes it easier for us to expand both individually and collectively in whatever direction the Spirit of Love is blowing.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his friends that he does not object to healing done by others in his name. Healing is good no matter the healer.
In the poem “I am the Rain,” the author refuses to be defined by social categories. Instead, he identifies with the rain. Rain is water vapor that has evaporated from a body of water and condensed into a raindrop in a cloud. A rainbow is the product of billions of raindrops falling amidst sunshine. When it reaches the earth, rain becomes creeks and rivers; and all rivers eventually flow to the sea.
This Lent, we are flowing with Jesus towards Jerusalem. We are like raindrops who originated in the ocean. When we fall with billions of other drops, we create a rainbow. Once on earth, we become a part of a particular creek or river. And at the end of the journey, we flow back into the ocean. This ending returns us to Source and sets up another cycle of evaporation, rain, and rushing rivers.
May we continue to strive to be a community that welcomes all the rivers who yearn to flow with others to the sea. Whatever fear we feel during the journey, we pray it will also be with confidence that all colours of the rainbow are blessed and accepted; that all rivers are unique; and that all of us eventually flow with joy back into God’s ocean of Love.
May it be so. Amen.