Our Own Kind of Music

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
by John Brett
 
 
The tears pooled in my eyes as I sat underneath the cross on Christmas morning. I was part of a small circle of worshipers in the chancel of the church of my baptism during my junior year of high school. Amidst the Incarnation’s intimacy that morning, a quiet, reflective calm after Christmas Eve’s pageantry, Isolation’s moisture fell down my face. Andrea, an older church member whom I had sung with since 6th grade in a small folk ensemble, where I had first read the term “6 foot gladiola,” reached out and held my hand. For a moment I was reassured.
 
The first time I ever came out to anyone as “questioning my sexuality” was one year prior. Sitting in that same chancel at 2 AM at a church lock-in, I confided in a Danish exchange student. Later, I knew I was lucky because he kept the secret. In 10th grade, at 15 years old in the early to mid-1990s, it was a risk to share such information. At approximately the same time another young man in my high school had come out of the closet to the wrong person, the news spread around the school, people bullied him, and soon he dropped out. I have no idea where life’s trajectory has since led him, though I hope he found a way to survive.
 
A few months later, again at 2 AM, in a different church’s chancel during a Lutheran Youth Organization regional board meeting, I came out to Anna, the president of the board. It was one of those late-night teenage conversations where you bare your soul to each other and all the anxieties of shared teenage years spill out. It offers a moment of relief, then closet doors shut again during the road trip home.
 
My coming out has always been connected to the church. The church was the space, especially with how scary and dangerous it was to reveal myself in the wider world, where it felt safe in relationship to speak my emerging truths, and it was simultaneously the least safe space to admit them. If being bullied in high school risks forgoing graduation, being bullied by a church, by its theology, risks the experience of heaven. Those the church condemn often lose the hand of God reaching out to comfort them, an incarnation indispensable.
 
Nobody can tell ya
There’s only one song worth singing
They may try and sell ya
‘Cause it hangs them up
To see someone like you
 
As it relates to theology, as it relates to concrete practice, as it relates to the appropriate color of the carpet, the church often errs. The church often opts for the dangers of a single story (credit to Chimamanda Adichie), a single way to do liturgy, a single way to be found acceptable in the eyes of God. As if we were not already found worthy first by God’s blessed action, humans seek false reassurances, decide who’s in and who’s out. Because the hands of our worshiping communities so often reject us, the whole of us, do not reach out in comfort, push us away or abuse us, queer people know that in this life there’s more than one song to sing, more than one way to worship, and more than one acceptable color for the carpet–though we may have informed opinions about the latter. Such knowledge, sometimes estrangement, sets us apart. It’s lonely there. Perhaps you’ve known a lonely relationship to the church, to God, for your own reasons.
 
You’re gonna be nowhere
The loneliest kind of lonely
Just to do your thing’s the hardest thing to do
 
 I heard the words falling out of my mouth earlier this year as I spoke to a ministerial elder colleague on the phone after my mother’s death, “I can no longer wait for, nor do I expect the church to unequivocally affirm me.” Self-affirmation, I’ve known though now better realize, remains something I must provide myself; God’s already provided theirs.
 
You gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own kind of song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
This past Sunday evening, after a decade of daydreams, now feeling appropriately resourced internally and externally, I coordinated the San Francisco Night Ministry’s first Drag Street Eucharist. Over 100 people eventually joined our revelry in the streets of the Castro, where a Jesus puppet sat above the communion table and glitter was strewn faithfully and fabulously across faces and sidewalks. A UCC colleague presided in drag over Holy Communion and my drag mom, a queer chaplain, gave the sermon. We closed the service with ‘The Runway of the Spirit” TM, our own version of the altar call, inviting all, in drag or out, to the runway’s acceptance, all Creation our ballroom.
 
 
As we close Pride Month, I invite all those who have felt alone, ostracized from the church, even while sitting in its pews, into insurrections of affection. May we make our own kind of music, secure in the love God first gave, despite anything the church might tell us. In God’s affirmation,  may we remind ourselves and others that there’s more than one song to sing, to discover plenitudes and diversities yet unimagined. Especially for those dropping out of school, dropping out of church, who have given up, may they know themselves affirmed, beautiful, called. May we reach out our hands in comfort. God’s Work, Our hands.
 
So if you cannot take my hand
And if you must be going, I will understand
You gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along

 

 
Image Description: A Photo of John in fabulous drag on the streets of San Francisco for the Faithful & Fabulous Drag Street Eucharist service. Next to John’s image are the words:  As we close Pride Month, I invite all those who have felt alone, ostracized from the church, even while sitting in its pews, into insurrections of affection. May we make our own kind of music, secure in the love God first gave, despite anything the church might tell us.- John Brett
 

 
 
John (he/hym/hys) grew up on a wheat farm in North Central Washington State, far from his current home in metropolitan San Francisco. He’s a seminarian and works as LGBTQIA+ Program Director and as a chaplain with San Francisco Night Ministry <https://sfnightministry.org> alongside the city’s unhoused folk, and the street and LGBTQIA+ communities. He’s also a proud oblate with The Companions of Dorothy the Worker. <https://www.companionsofdorothy.org>  Prior to seminary, John completed his BA in Spanish and Performance Studies at Dartmouth College and served as the Executive Director of a regional legal aid program in Washington State. His favorite ministry experience to date involves offering spiritual care while in drag at a taco truck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.