Only Love Can Do That

FullSizeRenderSaturday night, I had an experience that I can only describe as something between a conversion and an affirmation, while sitting (briefly) on the floor of the Church & Society 2 legislative committee. Grace at General Conference? I know.

I came in as a substitute for my friend and a member of our delegation, LaTrelle, who had given her all as the chair of the most challenging sub-committee at General Conference (no exaggeration). After presenting all of her committee’s legislation with all she had, she tagged out, and as a reserve who has spent months and months studying the legislation of this committee, I was able to step in for the last 40 minutes of the session.

I knew there was a chance that the committee would address a proposed resolution that utilized very bad theology to enforce extreme gender binaries and diminish the identity and humanity of transgender persons who transgress those binaries. I had done some research to help prepare others to speak to it, and really hoped it wouldn’t come up. But sure enough, it came to the committee floor with the recommendation of the subcommittee, and with not a lot of hope that it would be turned down. My hand shot up immediately, and I carried my notes to the mic. My speech was not recorded, but this is my best re-creation:

My name is Becca Girrell, and I am a clergy reserve delegate from the New England Annual Conference. I paused, a long, deep sigh of a breath. Something shifted inside me. 

I urge you to vote against this appalling resolution. Petition 60845 is harmful, unloving, and unchristian.

I have come prepared. I could tell you all about how this resolution stands in direct contrast to what we say about gender in the Social Principles; there we say that no gender is superior to or inferior to another. I could tell you about how this resolution stands in direct contrast to the message of Jesus, how by inserting hurtful language specifically directed at an already oppressed and marginalized group of people, we are standing in exactly the opposite place as where Jesus stands, which is always for, and more importantly with, the marginalized. I have come prepared with statistics about suicide rates and violence and the murder of transgender people, statistics meant to shock you and sway you, and I can tell you all about the brutality inflicted on transgender persons.

But I’m not going to tell you about any of that. I sighed again, breath. I put my notes down and held the mic even closer. I smiled, and the smile lingered on my lips. 

Instead, I want to tell you about my family.

I want to tell you about all the fun and all the love my family shares. I want to tell you about my two children from my previous marriage. And I want to tell you about my husband, my best friend, the love of my life, my friend of more than a decade. He’s an adult convert to Christianity and to Methodism. He is gifted and called. And I know I am biased, but he is the most gentle, loving, unassuming, grace-filled, spirit-led, passionately-Methodist, magnificent person I have ever known.

He is also transgender. Silence. 

I am not confused about that. My children are not confused about that. And I assure you, my husband is not confused about that. He knows who he is. He knows, through and through, that he is created in God’s own image, as we all are. He knows and has claimed– and here I do need my notes, because this is a direct quote from paragraph 161 E of the Social Principles– the right every person must have, to the opportunities and freedom for ethical self-determination. I looked up as I put down my notes again. I could see the observation section, the silent, rainbow-clad people on their feet, and Sean seated in the front row, his hand lifted in the simple sign for ‘I love you.’ 

Language like this resolution denies the humanity of people like my husband. It inflicts harm on people like him, and on families like mine, by suggesting confusion and inferiority where there is none. I urge you to vote no on this dangerous, divisive, and harmful petition.

I returned to my seat in the silent room, my eyes dry, my breath calm. No one spoke. The chair called for the vote. Petition defeated, by seven votes.

There are many, many times– maybe even most times– at General Conference, when I am tempted to lead with the righteous anger or the indignant confusion, or the cold, brutal statistics that I think should sway people. There is a tightness in the chest then, and tears of anguish or rage or all of the above. But this time, I led with something else. I breathed into a fathomless Breath that Pentecost-Eve. And I breathed out love.

Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing less than the endless, unconditional, mutual love that my partner and I share. Nothing less than the raw, open vulnerability of my own humanness, my own belovedness. Nothing less than a call to the heart, my heart, their hearts. Nothing less than the plea to see one single beautiful transgender person through the eyes of their loved one.

Maybe it was only this one time. Maybe it’s dangerous to believe that it works. But no one seemed to expect the vote to go the way it did. Everything similar was about a ten vote margin in the other direction. For three minutes, one Pentecost-Eve, love won.

And if I can choose to lead from love that one time, however subconsciously, however unintentionally, if I can risk my own vulnerability enough and be wide-open enough that all I show is love, if I can trust that love will be the only force that can break through and transform and leave me dry-eyed and calm in the midst of a storm of ignorance and fear… then I could choose that again. And again. And again.

Something whispers, you know this. This is what the Gospel is. This is what is sacred. This is the only path, the only Way. Only love. 

Hate cannot drive out hate, Dr, King says. And maybe it can’t sway votes, either– nor can anger or statistics or the righteous indignation of my own denied humanity. Only love can do that. Only love.

Sermon: A Time for Tears

tears“A Time for Tears”

(March 20, 2016) When Mary weeps for Jesus, or when Jesus himself weeps, we see a sort of human vulnerability that we can lose track of when it comes to Jesus. Will you let the story of the human Jesus move you this week? (John 19:25-30)

“Poured Out” monologues for Lent by Dr. Marcia McFee, ( used with permission, but not reproduced here. 

Sermon: Redeeming Blood

blood“Redeeming Blood”

(March 13, 2016) I’ve never been comfortable with embracing the blood and suffering of Jesus’ death, not because I’m squeamish, but because I don’t like what that says about God. But if redemption is in Christ’s blood (just like, as an Italian, hospitality is in mine), is it possible to redeem this image and let it speak to me– and to many of us– in new ways? (Luke 23:33-47)

Personally, I think that if you’re only going to listen to one of my sermons so far this year, it should be this one. It’s deeply theological in some ways, and also deeply personal.

“Poured Out” monologues for Lent by Dr. Marcia McFee, ( used with permission, but not reproduced here. 

Sermon: A Bitter Cup

Poured Out Wine“A Bitter Cup”

(March 6, 2016) Judas’ betrayal of Jesus casts him as one of the greatest villains of all time. But even out of betrayal and suffering, and death itself, God is able to work transformation in us and in the world. Now that is grace. (John 13:21-30)

“Poured Out” monologues for Lent by Dr. Marcia McFee, ( used with permission, but not reproduced here. 

Sermon: Are You (really) Going to Wash My Feet?

Poured Out Water“Are You (really) Going to Wash My Feet?”

(February 28, 2016) Peter does not want to see Jesus humble himself to the status of servant or slave and wash the feet of the disciples. But Jesus teaches that our faith calls us to the humbleness of both service to others and receiving the blessing offered to us. (John 13:1-17)

“Poured Out” monologues for Lent by Dr. Marcia McFee, ( used with permission, but not reproduced here. 

Sermon: Glimpses of Mortality

Poured Out Oil“Glimpses of Mortality”

(February 21, 2016) When a woman, sometimes named as Mary, and sometimes without a name, anoints Jesus with oil, she reveals many things about Jesus himself. Her own act, transgressing boundaries, prophetically foreshadowing, and deeply vulnerable and loving, mirrors Christ’s actions among us. (John 12:1-8)

“Poured Out” monologues for Lent by Dr. Marcia McFee, ( used with permission, but not reproduced here. 

Sermon: Poured Out (introduction)

Poured Out Sand“Poured Out”

(February 14, 2016) As we enter Lent, we prepare to receive God’s great gift of presence, poured out for us. This Lent, we will use the lens of many elements poured out and hear the stories of the people who would have surrounded Jesus during his last week on earth. (Luke 4:1-13)

This sermon is abbreviated, and we then introduced the elements of oil, water, wine, blood, tears, and light, using a liturgy by Dr. Marcia McFee. “Poured Out” monologues for Lent by Dr. Marcia McFee, ( used with permission, but not reproduced here.