Same Difference: some wonderings on stories, labels and a queer sense of witness – PART 2
This is PART 2 of a 2 PART Series.
Matthew’s phrase provoked a range of unfolding questions in me. Not least, “What is a queer sense of Christianness?” Given the all-too-often painful exclusion caused by belief, doctrine or institutions from which many here are emerging, there is a need for us to pay attention to what it is we might seek to positively embody as we undergo this emerging. Perhaps Matthew’s phrase was so welcome in its provocation because it points to needing to be more than just, “not that kind of Christian.”
As we seek in the sharing of stories to find out what it is we might be for over what we are not, emerging conversations are littered with labels which are undergoing interrogation, redefinition and transformation. We could say that within a queer conversation this is doubly true. Our theological labels are undergoing deconstruction but also the many labels that we or other use to define our gender identity and sexual orientation. It is my current inkling that this extra layer of complexity could prove powerful as part of the queer witness to the emerging movement and to wider religious conversation.
Just as there is (an often unacknowledged) theological or denominational diversity in the emerging conversation, so too is there incredible diversity of identity naturally revealing itself in this fledgling queermergent conversation. Marry those two together and it’s impossible to avoid recognising that Queermergent covers a diverse collection of voices, experiences, and identities – in gender, orientation, and theology. As we tell and hear more and more stories from the margins, kept at the edges, away from the monopolising hetero-centre, that fixed centre is being inherently challenged and potentially loosened, for its own good and the benefit of all. For that fixed centre can make our identity and theology rigid and limiting.
Challenging that which would seek to monopolise lies at the heart of what we’re doing when we use “to queer” as a verb. In challenging assumed hetero-normatives as universal and “right”, the call to queer voices is one of subversion. If the emerging church movement challenges what has gone before, what challenge do queer voices bring to that emergent conversation?
Is the queer voice here to add weight to the emerging voice and challenge the “old ways” of doing church, or is it here to subvert the emerging movement itself? For there are many in the emerging conversation who remain in their traditions and we are theologically not all on the same page. Much of what characterises the emerging movement is about a mindset: a way of relating to faith (even if one stays in the tradition one has been brought up in) that is different. For others it is rather a radical overhaul of the entire system and mindset itself.
Most of us know what we’ve emerged from. Looking back, however painful the journey has been, is actually the easy part. To borrow from the Catholic and gay theologian, James Allison, who puts it so well, we find ourselves, like Jonah, “spluttering on the beach.” Like Jonah, we can look back and tell our stories of being on that ship, of going overboard and of being in the belly of the whale. But we can’t stay there spluttering. Jonah had a journey to make. There came a point, having found his breath, when he had to get up and start out on his way towards Nineveh.
So, here we are. Spluttering on the beach, trying to catch our breath, sharing our stories of where we have come from. But we can’t stay washed up on the shore forever. We’re each going to have to move.
So, as I reflect on how our stories are in a deep sense all the same, I’m wondering…
Where we’re walking to? And perhaps just as importantly, who are we walking with? Who are we willing to include in our collective journey? Because we’re wearing different labels with different meanings and we’re not all going to agree with one another. How do we handle our diversity? How do we contain our conflict?
I welcome Matthew’s articulation of hope that the voices raised here might offer new paths to transformation and healing. How will we challenge ourselves? Are we up for the task to be more than simply, not the monopolisers? How do the excluded or marginalised avoid becoming the new monopolisers and excluders?
Amidst the stories of where we have come from we need to embrace the far more difficult conversation of where we each want the story to go in the future. As we share what we are emerging from, how do we wonder what we’re emerging into? As we seek to forge connections in this network, (which typically happens by creating a sense of unity of identity), how do we embrace our diversity and our difference as being something vital and a gift to be welcomed, rather than a cause for stumbling?
I’m not looking for right answers. Only seeking signs of our best guesses being lived out. You and I are not the same. That’s what we have in common – our uniqueness and our difference.
The intentionality with which we wear our labels, how we own them – the thought, the story, meaning and intention behind them – will perhaps be the best gift and challenge of being Queermergent together. Can we be a witness to love and justice for all? Different identities and theologies on the surface but, deep down, under these labels, the same.
Cary has been a creative collaborator in the ikon project in Belfast, NI since something like 2003. She lives in Dublin, where she is becoming…