Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Katy Stenta is curating a series called “Worship Outside the Box” that looks at the elements of worship in new ways and contexts. Each post will focus on one particular part of worship, providing new insights about how we can gather to worship God. Today’s post serves as the confessional sequence. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Max Hill
As a queer person, I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with authenticity.
Not all spaces are safe for full honesty about my identity.
Time home with certain family members just causes stress.
As does living in a seminary community among students with a diversity of theological beliefs about my body, my expression, and those I love.
And so does walking into an unfamiliar worshipping community and not knowing if such a space is one that I can relax in or
if my walls of anxiety are a warning that this isn’t a place where I can be all of who God created me to be.
So I negotiate.
Not always consciously, but it always happens.
I ask questions about what I need to wear and how I need to perform that day.
Should I paint my nails? Put on makeup?
Those little things that help me to feel like myself – or
is it better to do what’s safer
To wear my boy clothes? To keep my nails and face bare?
And if I do that, do I need to hide the rainbow tattoo on my arm?
This negotiation can be exhausting and draw me away from worship.
So maybe a more meaningful worship is happening amongst those where I don’t have to hide –
my queer family.
I’m lucky to have a queer family of faith.
People that I can go to and it doesn’t occur to me to negotiate outward expression or and put up an internal wall of protection.
People with whom I can just put on “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande and vogue the night away.
The drag queens, butch queens, femme boys, trans persons, and those of nonbinary identity and expression in our churches all negotiate themselves almost to the point of extinction. Not all of us have the strength or opportunity to live authentically in our places of worship.
But what is worship when we hide?
What is confession when we are not giving all of ourselves – when we are not SO honest and authentic that we can feel it in our bones?
The authenticity of queer identity and expression is not the act of confession – because it’s an authenticity that doesn’t hinge on our imperfections.
Queer identity and expression is not an imperfection.
But it’s something our confession can learn from.
In confession we get honest – or we’re supposed to….
We speak together of our failures and admit our faults.
Those of queer identity and nonnormative gender expression know what it means to not always love ourselves. We know how easy it can be to internalize the isolation of not seeing ourselves in the world (or in the pulpit).
Those lucky enough to have the strength and resilience to thrive know what it means to unpack the shame placed on us, to take the harm we inflict on ourselves and lay it down.
And what more is confession than radical authenticity? To be authentic is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to trust and hope for grace.
Confessional vulnerability is exactly what our worship needs. We need to break our liturgy open and examine ourselves.
Because when we do, we can truly experience the grace that Christ shows us.
The grace to dance.
Negotiation forces us to examine ourselves deeply.
Examination allows us to know ourselves intimately.
This way, we can harness the strength to accept Christ’s love and grace.
Our confession can learn more about how to know yourself intimately from queer, trans, and nonbinary persons.
We know how to proclaim as Brooke and Carmen Xtravaganza do in Paris is Burning, singing, “I am what I am, I am my own special creation!”
And we know how to show grace to those that can’t see our authenticity as beautiful.
Thanks be to God.
Max Hill is passionate about relationships, community building, and the intersection of faith and identity. He has recently served as the Student Minister for Contextual Exploration, Community Engagement, and LGBTQ Belonging at Maryland Presbyterian Church outside of Baltimore. He has also served as a Student Pastor for LGBTQ Fellowship at Broad Street Ministry and Brick Presbyterian Church in the City of New York. Before that, Max was a grant writer and New Worshiping Community founder/facilitator with United Campus Ministry at the University of Arkansas. Max is in his senior year at Princeton Theological Seminary.