Written from Treaty 2 Territory of the Anishinaabe peoples, on National Indigenous Peoples day.
A Cree/Irish man, a black woman, a white lesbian couple, and a heteronormative white lady walked into a bar. They had gathered to eat together, during a break from presenting at a conference on reimagining the church.
Once seated, the server arrived and asked them to order drinks. A few minutes later, the server brought a very small glass of beer to the Cree man. He didn’t notice that everyone else was getting a taste-test glass of wine or beer, depending on what they ordered. Instead, a very real flush comes to his cheeks and he said to the server, “I’d like the full pint I ordered, please.” She went to bring him his full pint, and while she was gone, it became clear what had just happened.
The Cree man explained, that if he were sitting with all indigenous women, no one would have to ask what just happened. That in fact, we may all very well not be served the amount of alcohol we ordered, due to prejudice.
As the evening deepened, the heteronormative white lady reflected how each person sitting around the table experiences being conspicuous on a daily basis. Two Boomer generation women... married... affectionate... in love. A black woman, in a white world. A Cree man, sitting in a bar.
As they ate together, and laughed till they cried together, and barriers came down, so that they could all just be themselves, they unknowingly discovered a reimagining of the church.
Hint: it wasn’t a program. It was a meal. During which, no one had to censor their God-given precious nature, in the midst of a culture that “makes conspicuous”, and demands self-editing, from those who don't fit the mold.
This meal really happened. And I, of course, was the heterosexual white lady who has always felt more at home in countercultural spaces. Even despite horrifying youth group theology that in many ways taught me that what it meant to be a Christian was to “stand” against homosexuality. Deep down, I've always felt more alive and more myself with “the conspicuous”, than in rigid, repressed spaces of white uniformity.... These spaces that have done a very good job of making religion textureless, colourless, and sapped of, nuance, and deep meaning.
Last week, I took the filters off about how insidious the violence of assimilation and colonization can be. What we like to think of as a “melting pot”... as a diverse space… is often really, about being melted, and poured, and cast, into the same mold.
I wanted to share with you this story of being the straight white lady at the bar, because of some news that just surfaced.
I have long been proud that Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city I lived in for 12 years, boasts the Human Rights Museum. It is a tremendous work of architecture, and contains very moving displays and stories of ongoing struggles, and emancipation, focusing on many groups and stories around the world. I am still proud, but will note that with some news surfacing, structural work inside the organization is necessarily being done.
This week, news was released that former employees of the Human Rights Museum were asked to censor displays of same-sex couples while giving tours to certain religious groups.
Why, oh why, are we still in such a constricted, drab, puritanical culture, that even the Human Rights Museum, will censor the very real fight for their lives, that the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced, and IS experiencing?
Getting back to the word: 'violence', that I asked us to meditate on last week.
I am more and more convinced that there are many forms of violence, and perhaps the most insidious forms are the ones that never draw blood, but pave the way for unsafe spaces that shut out, and exclude. After all, I saw one statistic recently, that prior to Covid-19, suicide was the main cause of death. If you look at how statistically, suicide can be caused by expecting people to be something they are not, the statistics of suicide make a lot of sense. What do we expect, when American commercialism and academia invades the whole world, meaning that literally billions of people measure their worth up to the beauty concepts and normative standards of the most powerful military industrial culture on the planet?
Even if there is an argument that a conservative religious group has “rights” to deem homosexuality a sin, the safety and the fight for the lives of the group being censored, and being put at risk, should always come first. And woe to those who would decry “reverse persecution”, because to censor the display, is, in a very real way, erasing the violence that has been, and is being done, very often in the name of the very religious groups who don’t want to see it. And maybe that's why they don't want to see it.
What was it about the mystery of Christ, when the Cree man, the black woman, the two women in love, and the straight white lady, gathered, as real humans, and broke bread together?
The great irony of this censorship of a display that shows the fight for equality of the LGBTQIA+ communities, is that for the Christian groups, (who I will speak to, because I am a Christian), the very reality of the presence of Christ was on display, and was covered up. Was erased. Because if you want to experience the presence of Christ, you must look in the eyes of those who have suffered. For who they are. You must look in the eyes of those who have been rejected. Forsaken.
Last week I mentioned the film Into the Wild and spoke about the privileged white boy trying to escape his own mold. The "burning house". The "ladder up against the wrong wall". What I might call Puritan Consumerism... the way the dominant culture casts films, commercials, workforces.
This week, interestingly, I read that the bus that Chris McAndless lived in, has become a pilgrimage point for kids today, trying to escape their mold. Just this week, the state of Alaska had a helicopter lift the bus from its location, because kids were dying, trying to get to it. What was sacred about that bus, that would inspire someone to risk their life to get to it? Now that it is removed, what will replace it? How will culture continue to attempt to iron out the kinks trying to surface out of this straight-laced world?
In these past few weeks during the Black Lives Matter protests, I've seen the argument, "oh, so people can gather to protest, but not to get back to work”?
Yes. They can.
How hard is it to understand someone who works a 40 hour week that still needs to collect food stamps, being more inspired to hold up a sign that says “I matter”? Maybe, just maybe, stepping out into a pandemic to declare “black lives matter” is worth risking one’s life for, over and above showing up at a job that takes up all of your waking hours, but doesn’t even feed your family.
Think of how violent it is for people who have been melted and poured against their will, into a mold they don’t fit? I actually believe that even the people who "fit the mold", display violence, because even they have never felt permission to be their true selves. I think white supremacy has scrubbed and polished many wild white kids until they were raw. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, after all. (And then, when they go looking for meaning, all that they can initially see, is commercialized appropriated culture that until recently was outlawed.)
I believe this straight, white world that has been constructed, is one of the "kingdoms of this world" that Satan offered Jesus in the desert. After Jesus had been baptized into an alternative kingdom, he was tempted to fall for the lie of scarcity. Jesus dug deep, and knew that this kingdom on offer, was not of God's making.
What is so threatening about God’s vast and varied creation? And why is this vastness, and all this variation. most threatening to so many who actually believe all this was made by a Creator?
But also, what is so threatening for the Human Rights Museum, that they would think twice about shamelessly standing with all who have been persecuted… and to remember that a group must never be considered first, if they are feeling persecuted for who they exclude…?
One possible answer may be... where we arrived at last week… even if it is secretly lurking deep in the background of our collective psyche:
where most of the equity is found, there you will find also, the most entitlement.
Our economics are not sacred.
A Cree man, a black woman, a white lesbian couple, and a white, heteronormative lady walk into a bar.
And Christ showed them how to reimagine church.
Which is really, how to reimagine a new heaven, and a new earth, rooted in an ancient wildness, that will not conform to the kingdoms of this world.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.