Same Difference: some wonderings on stories, labels and a queer sense of witness – PART 1

Posted on June 15, 2009


Same Difference: some wonderings on stories, labels and a queer sense of witness
BY Cary

This is PART 1 of a 2 PART Series. Check back next week for PART 2 of Cary’s exciting post!

Part I
I’ve been reflecting on these lines from Buechner,

“And yet I believe that all is not lost. Maybe we can never know each other’s stories in their fullness, but I believe we can know them in their depth for the reason that in their depth we all have the same story…

our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.

– from letter to Benjamin, by Frederick Buechner, in the longing for home (1996)

I applaud and am grateful to Adele for creating this space and for everyone else who’s showing up to share and listen.  It’s encouraging and provocative. I’m grateful too to those who are sharing their stories. To be human is to have a story and every human story has something to teach us if we are willing to listen with a spirit of welcome and willingness to be surprised and challenged. In only a few short months the collection of stories here make for rich reading, and I, like many others here clearly are, am grateful for them.

Stories are valuable, in large part, because they humanise our conversation. As children, how we understand the world is explored through the stories we hear and tell. Stories can remind us, or they perhaps should, that no idea is ever as important as a person, unless it’s an idea that places the dignity of that person being accepted as fully human at the centre.

In some regards, I trace my own life by the ongoing, unfolding, evolving conversations it contains. I’m most interested in, and enlivened by, the spaces where ideas are exchanged, shared and collaboratively developed. In other words, I don’t come to a space like Queermergent looking for answers, closure, certainty, or with the expectation that anyone else here, myself included, has it “right”.  Perhaps you are the same. I’m a firm believer in, “This is the best guess I can make, where I am now in my search.” And I’m interested in where others are now. Where we might go in the future, what we might become…?

I can say with certainty that what I believe or thought or wonder today is not the exact same as what I believed or thought or wondered yesterday, let alone last year, or a decade ago, and that they will be different tomorrow,  in a year and a decade from now. So in the now, I am always attempting to hold them lightly, knowing that the ongoing changes in how I understand the world, others, myself and G-D are informed by my experience of being human in relation to others. The conversation that can occur when our stories interact with one another is central to how we learn from each other what it means to be fully human and vitally alive.  Hugh Hollowell’s  4 part story was a welcome example of story telling that depicts the transformation of belief that comes through experience and relationship.

More to the point, this provisional nature of how we each hold our unfolding sense of the world and our place in it has, for me, significance to this “queer” and “emerging” space.  I’m reluctant to see the emerging church movement, or the queer voices within it, replace old doctrines with new ones that are just as fixed or excluding as those being left behind or moved beyond. I see real possibilities for the emerging movement as a transformative space. I have hope in the queer voices in the emerging movement making a strong contribution to that transformation. How that might happen over the coming years might have a whole lot to do with how we deal with our difference – our difference from each other. For we are not all the same – at least not on the surface.

Both queer and emerging conversations contain many labels. With these labels we (or others) define who or what we are. And labels often define who we are by implicating what we are not.  Sometimes a label is constricting and sometimes liberating. I consider all labels to be provisional in some sense. Firstly, just as my thoughts and beliefs have changed over time, the labels I use change over time. And the labels themselves mean different things over time, both to me, but also to each new person I encounter.

I’m interested in an idea Matthew B. Turner raised of, ‘owning our “Christianness”’ in his contribution, In Defense of Labels.

For me, that phrase touched on a key aspect of the wider emerging conversation. Matthew reflects an increasingly familiar story, that tells of emerging from church environments that have told us who we are, and what “Christianness” is. Many of us have found ourselves wearing labels that come from churches whose definition proved too narrow, oppressive or excluding.  Emerging stories, be they queer or straight, are often ones of pain and hurt, of not being able to belong unless one buys into those labels and bears false witness to oneself. But this call to ownership of our Christianness speaks of emerging into something new. But into what? What is it that we might be becoming?



CaryCary has been a creative collaborator in the ikon project in Belfast, NI since something like 2003.  She lives in Dublin, where she is becoming…