By: Deacon Ross Murray
My husband and I imposed a strict routine during quarantine. Some might say that we went monastic, with a rhythm of activity and rest. We were so concerned about COVID-19, the only way we’d meet up with friends was in the park. We’d lay out a blanket, and sit in the shade, talking, eating and drinking. We scheduled three daily walks in our neighborhood, visiting the two closest parks on a daily basis, with the occasional further walks to other parks in our area.
During our daily walks through the parks near our home, we closely observed the life of the plants in the park. In the spring (two springs now), we eagerly awaited the appearance of crocuses, then daffodils, then tulips. Before we knew it, we were seeing the full bloom of purple, pink, yellow, before everything eventually settled into a luscious green for the summer. We watched the process reverse in the fall, seeing leaves start to turn the golden yellows, oranges, and browns, before noticing that the trees were bare for the winter again. And during winter, we watched the positioning of the sun, looking for hints that spring might be returning again.
Had I been rushing to work, there is no way I could have noticed the tiny hints that told me that the seasons were progressing, instead only noticing macro changes well after they were underway. Our continued return to the park, coupled with a hope for what was coming, made my eyes observant.
Now that our world is opening back up a little more, I am worried that I’ll return to my old routine of rushing places without ever observing what is happening around me. I think of that for all of us. How can we keep a faithful recognition of the beauty of God’s creation all around us? How do we recognize the hints and signs that God is constantly doing a new thing in the world around us…and in our lives?
One way that I’ve done that is through The Naming Project, an LGBTQ-youth ministry and summer camp. Church camps have easily incorporated God’s creation into their communities and programming. At The Naming Project, campers walk among the trees, play on the grass, get bitten by the bugs, and swim in the lake. Even when the focus isn’t on nature, it’s infused into what the program is about.
The message we are trying to send to the young LGBTQIA+ people is to challenge them to look around and see what God is doing around them. We try to convey, “God made all this,” along with the message, “God made you too.”
LGBTQIA+ youth are a part of God’s creation, just as much as the lakes, trees, and rocks, and they need to be reminded of that reality. God’s creation isn’t just “out there” but also inside each one of us. These two realities cannot be separated from each other, even though humankind has often favored one over the other.
Just as I observed the changing of the leaves, I get the joy to witness young people grow into who God made them to be, maturing and changing over time. I think this is just as awesome as the sight of the first crocuses in the spring. I write in Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry that with some careful observance, and some nurturing, we all can see how young people are sending forth tentative shoots that will give us glimpse of who they are becoming.
Creation is both the natural world around us and the people God has placed in our lives. Let’s tend to God’s creation, making intentional choices that demonstrate we think about a future for God’s creation. And let’s take time to stop and notice the hints about what God is about to do next in the world.
Deacon Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute. Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies. Ross contributed to two books focused on LGBTQ Christian youth: Queerfully and Wonderfully Made and Welcoming and Affirming. His forthcoming book, Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry comes out in April 2021. Finally, Ross is a producer for the “Yass, Jesus!” podcast, a faith and sexuality affirming podcast that believes you don’t have to pick between gay and God. He lives in New York City with his husband, Richard Garnett.