Giving joy the last word…

It felt like a gut punch. I’d been talking to a non-denominational Christian publishing company that seemed excited about publishing the book I’m writing about parenting. In a Zoom meeting, I broached the subject of LGBTQ+ children and their parents. I wanted this group to know that I was affirming and that I write about my son’s coming out with love and admiration; I didn’t want there to be an issue down the road if some of their editors or marketing teams disagreed with my advocacy. I fully expected the editor to say, “Of course—we need this kind of book in our canon. More and more Christian families are navigating their kids coming out younger; your voice will be helpful.” Instead, she looked upset and said, “Can you send me those chapters and I’ll take it to our editorial board? The tone will be something we need to examine.” I was so disappointed and also kind of surprised; by surrounding myself more and more with progressive Christians, I’d chosen to ignore the reality that many evangelical churches are still opposing people that I love. 

My husband didn’t think I should send the editor any more of my writing; he thought it was very clear at that point that I shouldn’t work with them. I guess I wanted to give the Christian company another chance to do the right thing. When I heard back from them, though, it was that they’d decided that my kind of book wasn’t a good fit for them anymore. I wouldn’t have published with them anyway, but the whole interaction made me so sad for my gay friends and family; it was a wake up call that there was so much work to still do. 

One of my favorite things about God is how often the Spirit shows up and waves her arms around, saying “Yoo-hoo! Over here! Pay attention: I have something for you!”  

Shortly after this publishing snafu, one of my friends invited a group of us to walk with her Presbyterian church in the 2nd Annual Athens Pride Parade. It felt like the perfect anti-venom to my publishing rejection. Wearing as much Pride gear and bright colors as you’d expect, we lined up to walk the parade route through downtown Athens on a hot Saturday afternoon. I was expecting the fun costumes and hard-won glee; I wasn’t expecting the emotions of the day: relief and joy and hope and stubborn confidence. I think that’s why I burst into tears as we rounded the corner into the heart of downtown. A really big crowd had gathered to watch and celebrate; their joy was palpable. I know that many of the people both in and watching the parade have been deeply wounded by the church; I know that they’ve been bullied and excluded; I know that their hurt is very real and their very existence can often put them in danger. But as deep as their hurt is, their joy on that day was even deeper. 

A few years ago, when we moved houses, I wrote a blog post about deciphering which of our possessions to keep and which things to give away. I started asking a question I learned in seminary that is usually applied to Scripture: “Is this bread or is it stone?” It’s a way of asking “Does this nurture me or weigh me down?” It helped me figure out if I wanted to carry items forward or if I just felt obligated to keep them. 

It would be an oversimplification to say that people can also be bread or stone. None of us are all bread or all stone; most of us are usually a bit of each. But I do think events, situations and memories can be bread or stone. We can feel the difference between an experience that lodges in our soul as bread or as stone. We can decipher pretty easily which moments give us strength for the journey and which moments add to our burdens.  

One thing I’m learning in middle-age is that I get to decide how much to carry forward from experiences. I can stay focused on the publisher that disappointed me or I can marvel at the beauty of a Pride celebration in a small college town in the South. I can choose to be weighed down by disappointment or fed by hope. When given the option, I want to choose bread over stone. Every single time. 

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  • Well said Anna. We all need to hear this. In his sermon yesterday, our minister made the declaration that all churches need to hear. Thanks

  • I may be misquoting, but I’ll give it a shot. Kristin Chenoweth, who considers herself Christian, asked her devout grandmother, “I have a friend who is gay who is afraid that the Bible says he won’t go to heaven.” Kristin’s grandmother said something like “I look at the Bible like eating fish. I take the meat which sustains me and I try not to choke on the bones.” ❤️

  • Thanks, Anna for a beautifully written piece and the positive outlook we sure need these days,
    Jan Welch