Guest post by Bekah Anderson, United Church of Christ
I spent the vast majority of Wild Goose feeling profoundly uncomfortable, and at the same time thrilled, inspired, and energized. I think that’s exactly how I should feel.
From my post at the United Church of Christ hospitality tent, I was in a great position to meet people, because they’d come over to greet fellow UCC folk, or to ask what Queer Clergy Trading Cards are anyway, or, usually in the case of the children, to pick up free Starbursts. I loved talking to these people. I loved learning about where they were from, and what brought them to the Wild Goose. Most of them lived in places geographically far away from my small-town New England life, but in other ways we were often very much alike. We shared a common language. I could talk about being a beloved child of God without feeling like that person who just “made it weird” by bringing religion into the conversation, and I could talk about my passion for social justice without feeling like an “over-zealous” social justice warrior. Several of the worlds I usually find myself inhabiting separately merged together in those conversations, and in some ways, I was more comfortable and at home than I have been in a long time.
At the same time, I was deeply uncomfortable, because my feet were killing me. I spent much of the weekend on my feet at the entrance of the tent, and by about midday on Friday I knew that my body was not going to forgive me for it any time soon. On Saturday we rearranged the tent so I could sit down instead, but for the most part I opted to stay on my feet. Mostly, this was because I felt that people would be more likely to come talk to me if I was standing, waiting for them, but I also felt somehow that my discomfort was part of the point. Should I really be comfortable in a place where so many hard conversations were happening, so many great ideas were being shared, so much of the future was being dreamed? If I stayed comfortable all weekend, it probably meant I wasn’t learning.
I did leave my tent a few times, the first time to attend Stories and Mental Health workshop. Even giving my feet a rest, I was anything but comfortable. The stories I heard that morning were powerful, inspiring, and heartbreaking. They were stories that brought me into contact with experiences and viewpoints I rarely see, and at the same time they reminded me viscerally of my family’s own experiences with mental illness. Sitting in the back of that tent, I was close to tears, moved by the bravery and pain of those around me, even as I remembered my own pain. And this, I realized, is what the beginning of allyship feels like. When you listen to others, when you realize that their pain and experiences are not separate from yours, when you know that for you to be liberated, we all must be.
And later, I attended Set the Captives Free: A Christian Call to End Mass Incarceration. Again, my body was comfortable but my mind was not. Anyone who can be comfortably listen to a discussion about how our criminal justice system targets, imprisons, and disenfranchises black and brown men and other groups is not truly listening. I found myself perched on the edge of my seat, not sure if I wanted to get up and run away from this truth, or rush towards the presenters and beg them to tell me how to dismantle this terrifying, pervasive system. And much to my surprise, they did tell me. They told us all that we can best fight this system when we combine political advocacy and policy work with real human connections and direct support to those who have been caught up in mass incarceration. Hearing these words, I breathed a sigh of relief, although I was still poised at the edge of my chair. “Okay,” I thought. “There’s something I can do. Now I just have to go and do it.” And this, I realized, is what social justice combined with faith feels like. A call to action, a heavy burden of truth, and a spark of hope in our own abilities.
The last moment I would like to remember here is the end of the closing liturgy, where we all stood in a circle and held hands as we sang, “I am.” This, I know, is what community feels like. The circle, linking us all together, and our voices rising and falling together. Singing has always felt like community to me. When we sing together, we can hear that everyone has their own particular voice, their own place in the song, and we can feel that that is right and good. When I sang in that circle, I could hear some people singing the melody loud and proud, others adding sweet harmony, others just slightly off-key, others singing quietly but steadily, and I would be willing to bet that some people weren’t singing at all, but swaying and listening to the music around them with a smile. All of it—and I mean all of it—was right and good. There is no one right way to sing, just as there is no one right way to be a member of a community.
And yes, I was uncomfortable, even as I sang. My feet still hurt, my face was slowly developing a sunburn, and the song was just a little too low to sing easily. And still I felt this was right.
Sometimes, discomfort is purely negative and must be assuaged. But at other times, discomfort is productive. Sometimes, it pushes us to action. When I was singing in that circle, I didn’t want to leave and put on sunblock; I wanted to stay, singing, and add my own harmony. In the mass incarceration workshop, although part of me wanted to leave, I knew I couldn’t really hide from this; I wanted to do something about it. In the mental health workshop, I didn’t want to push away the presenters and the feelings brought on by their stories; I wanted to pull them closer and learn more. And standing in the UCC tent with my aching feet, I actually didn’t want to sit down; I wanted to run down the street, skipping and dancing, sharing my energy with the world and giving my feet something else to do. My hope for all of us, when we are far away from Wild Goose in this uncomfortable world, is that as often as we can, we choose not just to stand, but to run forward, through the discomfort, into our shared future.
Bekah Anderson is a young writer studying religion and creative writing at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. She is currently interning with the Congregational Assessment, Support, and Advancement department of the national office of the United Church of Christ. She hopes that the new, queerer church will have shorter job titles.