Before anything else: I am 2/2 for cute Chicago Airbnb cats, this one was so very bedraggled and old and too precious for this world. We had us a good snuggle.
This past week, I attended the Q Christian Fellowship annual conference in Chicago. And it was a lot. Basically, a bunch of queer people and allies talking about Jesusy stuff. I’ll tell you a little about it, and my feelings about it, but then I want to take some time to tell you about one of the main things that I heard and want to remember.
So. I drove down Thursday morning, arrived that afternoon, met people and did stuff and kept doing that until Sunday morning when I left. It was pretty non-stop. I didn’t go in with super high expectations for two reasons: I’m not really connected with the organization itself much and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be; and conferences in general aren’t typically a format that I love, especially when I barely know anyone there, because big groups are a strong no from me usually (this conference was ~1,400).
In the event, I was pleasantly surprised by the conference part–the general sessions, the breakouts on various topics, the activities and organized things in general. I wouldn’t say that I was deeply moved by much of it but it was well-done and I enjoyed that part more than I expected to.
The meeting people part was difficult, of course, because that’s how I do, but I think I managed alright. Met in-person a number of people I kind of knew online, so that was nice, and met some other people for the first time in any context. Hopefully, at least a couple of those relationships will continue/grow. It would be really nice to have friends, real friends, that I talk to regularly from this group. Getting there.
I won’t list for you here the topics and specifics of the things that I did, though you’re welcome to ask me. I’ll just take a sec to try and describe how it felt being there and then finish up with the thing I can’t stop thinking about.
It was kind of like Pride–but with an even smaller and more specific affinity group. In other words, there was a shared experience that connected us implicitly with nearly everyone there; that connection is something that I rarely feel in my everyday life and I recognize just how precious it is. To hear the thoughts I’ve thought in my darkest moments spoken by another, to feel a thousand hearts that have hurt and beat and come alive just like mine.
We all live unique experiences, of course, but occasions like that make me feel known and un-alone in deep and powerful ways.
One of the sessions I went to discussed the formation of an ethical framework. The speaker used two lenses to describe how it might be done: bounded or centered. Bounded being where behavior is circumscribed by rules and centered where behavior is evaluated based on core values. She had two metaphors for this. The former is like livestock in pens–moving, eating, drinking is controlled by fences that also protect the livestock from the dangerous wild animals outside. The latter is more like a watering hole–animals come and go, their movement and behavior is unrestrained, but all must come to the water because it is the source of life.
This idea kind of radically changed the way I think about things–not because I was suddenly thinking differently but because I finally had a comprehensive way to think about things I already was moving toward. So that was cool. Lots of things to think about this. I actually drove back on Sunday and immediately went to lead an small group where I kind of co-opted the topic to bring this up, had some great conversations.
But in the midst of explaining this metaphor, the speaker said something that has been echoing in my mind all week.
God is re-wilding the world
I don’t even know if I can tell you how much I am in love with this idea. It builds on so many things I think and feel.
In the most direct context, she was talking about how God is in the work of freeing us from our rigid, legalistic fences and allowing us to live together in diversity by acknowledging the core values we share and the centrality of Jesus to all of us. That’s awesome, especially because the conference itself contains such diversity on pretty much every aspect of life.
But I believe it can be expanded further. Another idea I heard at the conference, as a part of talking about queer theory, is that a queer lens, like feminist and Marxist ones before it, offers a way to interpret the world that upends existing systems of power. Ethics is not the only area in life where people erect fences. There are labels and containment structures all over the place–gender and sexuality, of course, and race and ethnicity and nationality and ability and education and politics and age and socioeconomic status and so on and so on and so on.
Part of the gift that I bring to God’s kingdom and to the world as a queer person is my ability to re-wild some part of the world. I very much think that God is in the business of erasing our artificial and often harmful, if sometimes convenient and useful, barriers. God is not a God of walls. He invites us, ever so gently and graciously, to come drink at the watering hole and welcomes us gladly whenever and however we may arrive there.
I have so many thoughts, metaphorical and concrete, about what this may look like and what it means for us. But I am reminded of something a pastor of mine often said growing up, in reference to the communion table: Come not because you must, but because you may.
So come, let us drink from the watering hole, and let us make the world a little bit more wild.