Happily wearing my "rainbow stole" today for church, I wanted attention. The stole is about 30" long, and it drapes around one's neck like a minister's "stole" - a seasonal decoration that is part of a Methodist minister's garb. I received it in 2008 at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, and was made by members of the Reconciling Ministries.
I was complimented two times. First, by my divorce lawyer and her husband (also an attorney), who are two folks that are not only friendly, but have let me know that they are supportive of gay and lesbian people. I told them my pretty neck-piece was given to me by the Reconciling Ministries. They were happily surprised when I told them it actually IS a part of Methodism.
Next, another friend said, "What a colorful...thing you have." And to this friend I answered, "It means I'm gay-affirming, and I'm wearing it because this week was the Indiana Conference here in Muncie." My friend was taken aback, and said, "You aren't kidding, are you?" To which I said no, I was not, as I smiled and explained again about getting it at General Conference. I was kind of proud to be wearing my "sign" of affirmation, and I was happy that I could express the reason I wore it. As surprised as this 2nd friend was, she knows how I think and feel, so we smiled and went to our seats - and I chose to sit with the lawyer friends.
As I enjoyed the music, singing with a full heart, my friend Lisa, came to sit with us. After the usual announcements and so forth, the pastor, Matt, began with the first of a series on MARRIAGE. I'd been feeling pretty good up to that point - and wrote a secret note that I showed my two friends: Here we sit, two divorcees and a divorce lawyer! Oh, the irony.
Marriage Ref, showing silly arguments. And then to show how couples can grow apart, a geometric object lesson: as an angle stays constant, the points on the arms move further from the vertex (all math terms I had to look up to add here) as well as further from each other.
Wow, what a way to build up our little back row.
It took full concentration AND some good-hearted humor for both Lisa and myself to sit quietly and to keep a receptive attitude, since we each divorced for different reasons. But since we (and others who divorce) still hold marriage in high regard, we decided we would not make a mass exodus. However, about 15 minutes into the sermon/message, I had a "potty emergency" and had to excuse myself.
In the restroom, I was concerned to hear quiet sniffles - and I worried that someone needed help. My call from nature must have been a meant-to-be, because in asking, and all I could see was feet, and all I could hear was crying. When this small woman appeared, I found someone who was in much more serious shape because of this "marriage" sermon. She had just filed for divorce, and she was very, very upset.
Little did I know how much others would be suffering, and this particular woman couldn't bear to stay inside the main hall. I was so glad I got to talk and interact with her, and when she asked, I went inside and found her purse and things so she wouldn't have to.
Because I went inside and gathered the belongings of this woman, I also grabbed my own, and I didn't hear how the message ended. I wondered though, how many of us were there who were affected. I wondered, and still do, if Matt realizes that when he encourages some, even many, that some of us either have to remove ourselves from the impact of the message, or absolutely can't stand to hear how things "ought to be."
Getting back to my rainbow stole, I thought about why I wear it and what I stand for. I am part of many groups. There are the closeted gay Christians that I KNOW are part of our little congregation, and I want to be a visible support for them. The out gay Christians who are not there - since the United Methodists are slow to accept them as equals in our congregation. I also stand for the non-Christian gay and lesbian people, because we all are God's children.
I'm also part of the divorced people. Ten years ago I would NEVER have expected to be one of "THEM." Now that I AM divorced, messages like today's that assume marriage is part of everyone's life find me sarcastic and a little jaded. While divorce is no longer as stigmatized in the church as it was in the past, we who experience it still hurt, a lot.
So is there a sign I can wear that shows my care for these groups? Is there anything I can do? Is wearing a rainbow stole enough? Is it even appropriate?
I think it is not my rainbow stole that will show how much I care or display my willingness to stand with those who can't stand for themselves. I think it's my question in the bathroom stall asking, "Do you need help? Can I do something for you?" Even though I was initially afraid to intrude, it was a moment that passed quickly. And it takes just a moment longer to offer to help someone know they aren't alone.
I'm not sure how to sum this up - suffice it to say that I want to help. It isn't wearing an outside rainbow that shows my support, even though it can easily show that I'm supportive. It's the caring question, "Do you need help? Can I do anything for you?" It's offering myself, even when I can't do much more than get someone's things and give a hug. That's what I can do.