BY EVELYN WALD
OCTOBER 23, 2022 7:00 AM
I remember as a child the anxiety I often felt when it was time to play sports. Two children were chosen as captains and picked their teams one person at a time. In the end, there would be a few of us remaining, the “leftovers” that were only picked because we had to be on a team. I was often one of the final picks. A question of worth would arise in me as I awaited my fate.
I am writing this article on National Coming Out Day. I remember all too well that fateful day when I stood on the steps of Old Main and proclaimed myself as a “baptized, Lutheran, lesbian, child of God.” It felt freeing in that setting. However, when my name and words appeared in print in the Daily Collegian the following day I was angry (they had not gotten my permission) and fearful. Now my proclamation was truly public. Yipes! What would people think of me now?
I was also serving in a church at that time and on reformation Sunday that same year I came out to the congregation in my sermon. My stomach was churning. I was fearful they would ask me to leave permanently. At this time our Lutheran church did not accept “gay preachers.” I had grown up in that church, a faithful member even in my teens. Would I be rejected now?
Gratefully, the little church community embraced me and my life partner. It was a beautiful moment. However, the church at large remained firm in their policies. As I had wrestled with my sexual orientation, I was aware of the church’s stance. If I claimed myself to be a “homosexual” (the terminology of that time) I would risk my ordination and face potential rejection from congregations. Those same uncomfortable, worthless feelings from childhood arose within me again. “You’re not good enough. We don’t want you.” Because of one aspect of my being, all of me was rejected.
I was crushed. I had lost my supportive church community. I felt alone and dirty and unwanted by God. I removed myself from the Lutheran church and struggled spiritually and personally, even rejecting my own feelings and worth. The thoughts and actions of others can have a huge effect on our sense of well-being and worth.
It saddens me that so many people in our society face this same kind of rejection and judgment because of the color of their skin, their disabilities, their language, and their sexual orientation. We could save many folks from unnecessary grief and loss by opening our minds and hearts to all people.
Judgment causes separation. Separation causes grief. Grief creates anger and sadness, sometimes hopelessness and despair. I was filled with joy and hope when my little community of faith accepted me and my life partner. I continue to serve in that church and thankfully now our Lutheran church accepts all potential candidates for ministry.
Over the years I lost faith in the church, in God and in myself. I struggled with understanding how and why one part of who I am could bring about such angst. I may not be great at sports. My life partner is a woman. I am a child of God. All of these and so much more make up who I am as a whole being.
When we find ourselves in these unjust situations, I hope we have the care and support we need to combat our sense of worthlessness and rejection. I continue to grieve for the inequity and discrimination in our society and world. I still get excluded from some family gatherings. I am angry and sad and yet hopeful. Today I do have much support and deeper understanding about who I am as a whole person.
We all have the ability to change if we choose. We can meet each other as equals. We have all been chosen as teammates in our mutual humanness. One of us is no greater or lesser than the other. Can we embrace all of who we are and celebrate our uniqueness? We could turn our sorrow into joy. We could celebrate the unique gifts we bring together. We could be a world of hope and healing and love.
Perhaps we don’t need team captains. Recognizing we are all in this together creates a solid team with all the talents we need “to win.” I have shed many tears, and will continue to, until we can embrace each and all our sisters and brothers as equal. Let us grieve no more. Let no one stand alone.
Evelyn Wald is Lutheran minister and the program director for Tides and a facilitator of support groups. This column is coordinated by www.learningtolivewhatsyourstory.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.
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