January 29, 2017
Sermon at Unity Spiritual Center in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

“Preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words”- St. Francis of Assisi

 

I have actively searched for god two times in my life out of desperation.  When I got sober almost 31 years ago and when my grandmother died.  I was desperate for connection and for healing.  I know there is a force greater than I in this world and it is manifested through the good works of other people. 

 

It is documented that LGBT people have historically been harmed by “religious institutions”.  That has not been my experience, but I also know that I don’t always feel welcome.  Tolerated, maybe, but not included.  There is a big difference.

 

Today, I am speaking from my own experience of being a lesbian and gender non-conforming person and from the perspective of a community builder.  However, the concept of radical hospitality crosses all cultures and communities.  

 

A good friend of mine, Bishop Pat Bell of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon, introduced me to the concept of radical hospitality not to long ago.  He invited me to their annual conference to present a workshop to bring awareness of the LGBT lived experience and inclusion into their communities.  I had a great slide show put together and activities to help people think about inclusion.  And what happened was that we spent 90 minutes talking about gender and sexuality and sharing our collective experiences and stories.  We didn’t get past slide 1.  This conversation continued over two days, every time we came together, every time I met a new person.  They were thirsty for a better understanding of me, and people like me, and those, who for much of our lives, have felt marginalized and that we didn’t belong. 

 

My experience of radical hospitality with them was not accidental.   They didn’t just set a place at a table for me, but they made an intentional effort to see me, to hear me, to value me and to let me fully participate with them.  When I was growing up, the place I always wanted to be was in the kitchen.  That’s where all the action was.  That’s where people were talking, telling stories and laughing.  Even if I wasn’t cooking, I was helping prepare the meal. 

 

That is radical inclusion and hospitality.  I use the word radical to mean intentional, deliberate and even strategic.  Radical hospitality is acting and serving with intention.  It is a conscious practice.

 

I have learned that to be in community is to experience a sense of belonging.    To belong is to be related to and to be a part of than ourselves.  It is membership - the experience of in the broadest sense of the phrase.   We are in community each time we find a place where we belong; where we can belong.   It is the opposite of thinking that wherever I am, I would be better off somewhere else. 

 

I have also come to know that there are things we ALL need in our lives for us to thrive. We need…

  1. To know that we are valued and that our lives are significant.

  2. To know that we are not alone and we do not have to figure everything our entirely by ourselves. 

  3. To know that peace runs deeper than an absence of conflict - rather it is a sense of belonging that lifts us out of our own pain and struggle.

  4. To know that there is something to live for, to thrive on, and to connect to. 

  5. To know we have a sustaining sense of purpose in our lives.

 

I’d like you to take a minute and think to yourselves the answers to a few questions in your own hear.  Feel free to close your eyes and picture your self in situations that might come to mind:

 

Imagine entering your church from a different point of view than your own.

  • English is not your primary language

  • The color of your skin is different from everyone you see

  • You are with your same sex spouse

  • A gay person who carries great shame and is in the closet

  • A transgender person looking for a place to feel safe

 

What are you thinking?

What are you feeling in your body?

Do you want to stay or leave?

Do you see people like you?

 

What keeps you from going into places or joining certain groups that you want to?

What are you thinking?

What are you feeling in your body?

 

When you first came to Unity, how did you know you are welcome and included in this space?

What did people do? Say?

What did you see?

Did you feel welcome and included right away?

 

Participants at my workshop in Oregon told me that they were a welcoming church but they don’t seem to have very many gay or transgender people attending.  I asked them “how do gay and transgender people know you are welcoming?”  They said, “Because we know we are, it’s what we believe”. 

 

I challenged them to think of ways they SHOW the community that they are welcoming, not just by saying it but also by their actions.  Do they have a rainbow sign or sticker outside the church? Do they show up where gay and trans people are?   Where are they publicizing their church?  What pictures, posters, language is used within the church?    This is an example of setting the table but not necessary having folks help prepare the meal. 

 

I am remembering the words of the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, who said “We didn’t come together when we had to, we were already together,  So when we had to, we could stand together”.

 

We are in scary times. Especially for already marginalized people.  We need to do the work of knowing each other and our diverse cultures.  The only way we can thrive as an inclusive community is to stand together as one body of humanity.  So when the least of us is scared and suffering we can stand together in love, strength and compassion. 

 

Thank you to this group for your acts of racidal hosptiatly and making feel at “home”.

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