Thursday, November 16, 2023

“When was I supposed to sing?” -- Woke Words of Wisdom from Bishop John Harvey Taylor

When we gathered for our annual Diocesan Convention last week at the Riverside Convention Center our bishop -- +John Harvey Taylor -- did what bishops do at diocesan conventions and offered his convention address ... which is a kind of  church version of a "State of the Union" address.

You can watch the whole thing here ... and I commend it to you. 

But during this week of Transgender Awareness, I want to share this story he told in his address as a celebration of how one bishop used his platform of privilege to not only center the experience of God's nonbinary beloved -- but to challenge us to go and do likewise. Bravo, Bishop Taylor!

This is the power and majesty of our sacramental faith: that the risen Christ is alive ... inviting all creation to the party at the foot of the holy mountain – inviting everyone to come, without regard to race or nation, orientation or identification. The people of the Diocese of Los Angeles proclaim this Good News to all the world. With the Gospel, we say “Sleepers awake!” We are woke -- and we are proud of it! ...
Sometimes being woke is easy – once you get a poke in the conscience – as I learned just a few years ago, when I was still serving as vicar of St. John Chrysostom in Rancho Santa Margarita

I was spending a week at Camp Stevens as a summer chaplain. Every night at camp, at community gathering, the chaplains get the opportunity to preach -- but third and fourth graders after dinner don’t want to hear a reflection on Ephesians 5 any more than convention does after lunch. So my schtick was to get out my guitar – and take a Lady Gaga or a Taylor Swift song – and write lyrics that resonated with the theme at camp that week.

One time I was doing this and I told the boys to sing the first chorus and the girls the second. Afterward a camp staff member who was nonbinary took me aside and asked, “When was I supposed to sing?”

When it came to gender-inclusive language, I got poked into woke. While preaching the gospel of unity and love, I had actively made someone feel invisible and uncared for.

And you know what? Making some vocabulary changes has cost me exactly nothing.

Now I’d say, “Sing the first chorus if your first name starts with a letter between A and M.” Visiting schools, I used to love walking into a classroom and saying, “Hello, boys and girls!” Now I say, “Hello, kids!”

Instead of he or her, when in doubt, I say and write “their” -- and it’s the easiest thing in the world to replace “brothers and sisters” with “siblings.”

Language is powerful – righteous works proceed from righteous words. Woke language is calculated to include and welcome and to not do harm – as the letter of James reminds us, the words of our mouths are signifiers of the condition of our hearts-- and this is where it really can cost us – but it’s joyful work.

Because once our language identifies a reality, before too long, we are redesigning the restrooms – and appointing a committee to figure out how to include everyone who want to play sports irrespective of [gender] identification – and speaking out against politicians who get themselves into office and hold onto power by intentionally and cynically hurting our LGBTQ+ siblings, especially our children.

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