By Rob Walker
I came to embrace the Gospel of Peace firmly after spending a summer and a school year living at Canadian Mennonite University. Raised in Evangelical holiness movements (including Pentecostalism), I had come out as a gay man at 22, been confirmed Anglican in 2003, and gone through the break-up of my marriage to another man in December 2007 and early 2008. Wise friends said, “Finish your BA in English at CMU. It will be good for you.” I was clear about all of these things on my application, and the school welcomed me with open arms. “Perhaps you can help us in our conversation here with LGBT[Q] people,” said Adelia Neufeld Wiens.
Indeed, that’s what I tried to do. It wasn’t my only “issue” while a student there during my first semester, but it was the one for which I was known! Not very far into the year, a feeling of being watched settled into my soul. I wasn’t surprised by it; after all, I was the only queer person on campus (it seemed to me) willing to stick their neck out in public fora like the student bulliten board, or in public lectures in the Chapel. Though people were polite and I developed excellent friendships, I felt a little like my life was on display, and I was afraid. Who was determining whether or not I measured up?
In late November 2008, Irma Fast Dueck’s Christian Worship class held a service of lament during a Chapel time. My inner cynic was in full internal voice that day: “Oh sure, we’re going to manufacture lament. Uh huh!” But I settled into the liturgy, based around two questions from the Psalmist. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Various members of the community answered the question.
Suddenly, up out of my soul bubbled my own response: “I am afraid of straight people here at CMU.”
Though there were six opportunities to respond to the pointed questions about fear, with plenty of silence to hold whatever emerged, I couldn’t bring myself to voice that truth—it felt too risky, too dangerous, too—… And as the service continued, Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper settled into my heart: “That, my friend, is why you need to lament.”
I was quite shaken. I wrote an article for the student rag about my experience, repenting of my fear. Though it wasn’t published, the editor came to me and said, “Your piece was powerful. Thank you for your honesty.” It felt like a fellow believer had granted me forgiveness of sins. I went home for the Christmas break, much lighter of heart.
Second semester was a completely different story. Within two weeks of returning to CMU, there were twelve out gay men on campus (mostly high school students who chose not to re-closet themselves). For the first time in the history of that institution, there was a community-within-the-community—faces with whom to engage and live, rather than just one loner weirdo with an agenda. And I left knowing that in an important way, the conversation was just beginning there, at CMU. As I work for full inclusion of queer people in the Body of Christ according to the non-violent Way of Jesus, my heart keeps reminding me: along the Way, there is reason to lament.
God our stronghold:
Thank you for hearing our lament while we wait for you.
Be our light and our liberation,
until the day when, in the New Creation, we are free and reconciled,
and no one shall be afraid.
In Jesus’ Name: Amen.