posted by aaron
Lately I feel a little burned out. I feel burned out on educating people who are allegedly already on Team Revolution. I feel burned out on putting up with liberals who want to claim my voice as representative of theirs when it’s useful, and shut me up when I offer criticism of the ways they have left me/others out of their vision for the Kingdom. I feel burned out on lines like, “But they’re still a good person, even though they just did that incredibly racist/classist/misogynist/heterosexist/transphobic/xenophobic/ableist thing—don’t judge them!” and “Let me tell you what REAL radicalism is, silly ladies.”
However, I do NOT feel burned out on being a witness to real conversions of heart and mind. I will labor and pray for those my whole life. Keeping myself and my community open to the movement of God among the people is incredibly life giving. I am not tired of that. I am tired of “allies” who get street cred and book deals and interviews simply for being sympathetic to the oppressed. I am tired of “allies” building careers off of their own “sensitivity” instead of redirecting media/resources/followers to leaders who are oppressed people themselves. But I am not burned out by real transformation. I have a lot of inspiration for that. And it does not generally come from people who make a big fuss about their own sensitivity and awareness.
Perhaps I should explain my position. I do not live, work, or worship in a radical lefty bubble. Or a liberal bubble. I am a trans clergy spouse in a whiteline denomination, at a church with evangelical leanings (in the areas of worship and, to an extent, biblical authority). My partner and I live in a small city which is politically conservative-to-moderate, with white supremacist streaks running through it here and there. We are both white and able-bodied and out about our queerness. Our county had the highest unemployment rate in the state last year, and there are a lot of hurting folks here—lots of vets of all ages, lots of people continuing to lose their homes, no new jobs in sight for the past several years, lots of anger about all these things.
We generally find ourselves surrounded by people who do NOT think like us, or share our analysis about the roots of the world’s woes. A few times, we have found ourselves in flat out hostile territory (usually for reasons of queer/trans phobia). And yet, more times than I can recall within this past year, I have had my mind and my expectations completely blown by the folks in our parish—who were not looking to be a nice liberal/progressive church, who had mostly never heard the phrase “ally”, who were widely unaware that Christians were responsible for much violence against queers (not to mention lots of other people).
I am discovering this year, after 6 years of life and work in liberal-to-left leaning spheres of NYC, that my moderate-to-conservative church people can be better allies than the liberals, progressives, and anarchists I left back east. I am discovering, in this community, that becoming part of a church means THROWING DOWN for other members of your church. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely are not perfect—many folks still have BIG gaps in what they notice as injustice, and like everywhere else, there are some cranks and haters. But I am discovering that there is a real, concrete response here once folks have opened their hearts and spent some time digesting new information. It is not a detached response, and it is not theologically/ideologically abstract. It’s more like, “I just discovered that this other member of my family in Christ is hurting. I see them at least once or twice per week. I can do something. I can make them a casserole. I can pray with them. I can tell them I am PROUD they are part of my church.”
Deeply imperfect. But deeply personally invested. And open to the reality that they may be changed, and moved, and not know everything already. Because only God knows everything.
I am burned out on self-identified allies and progressives because I am currently immersed in a community that doesn’t speak progressive “ally” language, and yet is showing REAL and COURAGEOUS love—a community, btw, that loathes vegetarianism, sometimes shoots its own meat, values a nice haircut and clean shave, lifts its hands in the air for praise music, and prays every Sunday for our community members serving in the military. THIS community has my back. THIS community is hungry for empire-critical Bible scholarship. THIS community gets excited about the free class we’re teaching right now on the legacy of MLK. THIS community just put out a parish-wide survey that included the question, “Are you male/female/transgender?” (Honestly, I was shocked… and so proud!). THIS community collects a biblical tithe for the poor in our community—10% of our annual budget goes right back out the door to pay for electric bills, rental assistance, and emergency food needs. THIS community is beloved.
I don’t want my people talked about like they are The Enemy because they are from a small place, a praying place, a Bible-reading place, a hunting/fishing place, a place where people enlist in the military in high rates because of severe lack of other jobs. I want my people recognized as brave people because they are doing this thang in their OWN language, on their OWN terms, with honesty, and with recognition of the power of the Spirit to move hearts and minds. Also, they get zero Revolution Points for whitepeopledredlocks, veganism, and DIY gentrification, which makes me love them even more—they think these things are weird and are unafraid to say so.
I want more self-proclaimed allies to show this kind of openness to the truth that you do NOT know everything, but you will try your damndest to be responsible in concrete ways and in daily life. I want more self-proclaimed allies to pray a minute before you open your mouths or organize an action. I want more allies to leave urban white hipsterdom and gentrification churchplants and get your ass someplace where you are daily working with folks who are NOT on the same page as you politically, culturally, and theologically. I mean, shit, we’re out here, and they haven’t killed us yet… so don’t complain about how uncomfortable and challenged you feel by this.