Journey to the inauguration: a faith defining moment

Journey to the inauguration: a faith defining moment

I met Megan while I was in Washington, DC this past weekend for the 57th Presidential Inauguration activities. She traveled to DC with her friend, Rob Lee, who was invited to the Inauguration and African American Church Inaugural Ball by the President. We shared meals, stories and photos from the inauguration and finally got to chat and catch up and reflect on the historic events of this past weekend.

The first question, of course, was some clarity on how she ended up going to DC.

Uhm, oh man…I’m not very important.

I assure her that she’s being silly and the fact that she was able to attend at all was a big deal.

Megan had a mutual friend who worked with Rob on a documentary a few months ago on why the Church in the past 2000 years has contributed so much to persecution and prejudice and why these things are even in the vocabulary of the Church. They wanted to search for people who could testify that the Church is moving in the direction to where rights and acceptance are coming for the LGBTQ community. That search lead them to Washington DC to talk with people who have been some of America’s most prominent voices for spirituality and human rights. Rob was supposed to interview President Obama at that time, but wasn’t able to because of the campaign season. Rob received word over Christmas break that he’d get to attend the festivities based on the work they did for that documentary.

I ask her to share her highlights from the trip. She starts with a story about an upgrade in tickets to the Inauguration.

One major highlight was getting on the bus on the way to the Inauguration and asking someone next to us to help us figure out where we were going. It turned out she helped with the campaign and had extra tickets that were much closer than the ones we had. When she found out where we were sitting, she gave us her extra ones, which were as close as you could get to the seated section. The whole experience was surreal. A week ago, I wasn’t planning on going to DC. A few days ago, I was standing in front of the Capitol, listening to some of the most powerful people give the most amazing speeches. It was interesting to me coming from Boone, NC to DC, to see the cultural differences. It was really beautiful interacting with the people right next to you. So much kindness. Everywhere we went, everyone wanted to hear everyone else’s story. It was a great moment of unity. We were all there supporting our president.

We spent the next few minutes talking about Megan’s faith background. I knew that her friend, Rob, was a lifelong United Methodist, and super involved in the goings on of the Church, especially around LGBTQ inclusion, but I was curious to learn more about Megan’s story.

Megan grew up in a United Methodist family. Her grandfather was a United Methodist pastor. After returning from the Inauguration, however, she learned that her father was upset that she had gone to the inauguration. “He’s very conservative,” she shares.

The whole weekend was an eye-opener for Megan. She learned about the work of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, one of the Reconciling Ministries Network partners.

I didn’t even know that MFSA existed. I didn’t know there were people in the Methodist church standing up for the different social justice issues. It was interesting going to the MFSA open house [where I met Megan], and going to the African American Church Inaugural Ball and hearing them talk about the same stuff, then going to the Inauguration and hearing the exact same things being spoken about, I didn’t realize there were so many people fighting for all the same things. In our little bubble in North Carolina, and even in my hometown in central Florida, you don’t hear about these things going on. It was really inspiring to be around all of these activists celebrating on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday–the people who fought for civil rights in the past. Being able to stand next to the people who they fought for was overwhelming.

Since Megan’s been in college, she’s gone back and forth between churches and denominations. She’s been visiting different worship services and campus ministry gatherings trying to see what different people believe and how different people teach the gospel. Megan, like a number of young people today are searching for alignment in the ways the church does what it says it will do.

I think for a long time I had a hard time with the church teaching God’s selective love.

She begins to tell me a story about a celebration in her town, called “Bikefest.”

Our pastor had been doing a series on acceptance. We had cardboard cutouts all around the church of different kinds of people. We’d been working on it for a month. Then Bikefest came around and this couple came to our traditional church service in their leather shorts and sat in the front row. They were asked to leave because of their attire. Ever since then, I’ve had a lot of internal questions. I’m not as open as others in telling people what I believe, but I definitely believe that is not the kind of behavior that God intends Christians to display. I think his love is so much bigger than what you wear or what your sexual orientation is; what politician you agree with.

As a senior in college she’s enjoyed talking with friends and hearing what they believe. “I feel like I’m just now coming to clearer definitions of what I believe and why I believe it.”

We close our conversation with me asking her if this weekend has at all moved the needle for her in her faith journey.

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Megan with Mr. Mason, a Tuskegee Airman

The diversity that surrounded Megan during the Inauguration celebrations didn’t go unnoticed. The conversations around justice, freedom and unity, formed for Megan a picture of a society wherein people everywhere–those inside and outside the church–worked for the common good. President Obama’s Inauguration speech calling our generation to carry on what our pioneers began–the journey towards a wage equal to effort, towards marriage equality under the law for our gay brothers and sisters, towards immigration reform–didn’t just sum up his priorities for the next four years. It highlighted the most pressing question of our day: How do we treat the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, the marginalized?

I guess before this weekend, I had a few more questions about everything I’d been told growing up. About what was right versus what was wrong, how morals fit in with the Bible, what Jesus would have done.

Everything became a little clearer after interacting with real people, hearing their stories and learning more about the church in action.

I felt more inspired to believe the things that I do about God and God’s love. There was a time when whites viewed blacks as less than. I grew up in a time when I’d never think that. That’s what God wants for everyone. So why wouldn’t we fight for the same rights for everyone else? Why wouldn’t that be the Christian thing to do? My beliefs were more defined after this weekend. It didn’t change anything I believe, but made them more clear.

Megan used the word, “surreal” several times in our conversation. The journey to the 57th Inauguration was filled with moments of surprise and affirmation; of storytelling and storymaking. As I think about Megan and others like her who continue to ask how the church is not just participating in conversations around justice and mercy and social holiness but is committing faith to action, it is my prayer that we open our doors and invite people to sit in the front rows of our churches, dressed in whatever they want, bringing the question, “Is this really what God would have us do or say?”

And may the Church, in all our diversity, have the courage to remain open for the conversations that follow.

Postscript:

After writing this piece, Megan emailed me with a few additional thoughts as she remembered her time as a camp counselor, being approached by a camper who affirmed the way she understood God’s love for all:

After we talked, I started thinking…You know, growing up I never had many issues dealing with feeling loved or accepted.  Still today, wherever I go God inserts the most compassionate and genuine people into my life.  As I continued on a trail of thoughts and memories I was reminded of my time as a camp counselor.  During one night at church camp I was woken up by a camper who was around 9 years old. She could not go to sleep for multiple reasons.  One reason being she was thirsty, another was because she missed her sister and a third–she had some pressing questions.  The questions were about romantic thoughts and feelings she had experienced for other girls and she asked me if that was okay.  Looking down to see her curious and extremely nervous doe eyes I was honestly taken back.  All my life the answer I had known to be right was “no,” those feelings are not okay and in fact are displeasing to God. But there was nothing in my heart that could tell that to this scared little girl. I remember in that moment of complete disbelief, I realized that God’s intentions were clear: They were for me to tell her that Jesus loved her for who she was and whomever she loved. This past week/weekend in DC made me realize that this must be at least one of the major civil rights movements of our generation. We deserve to know who loved us first. Whether we are black, white, gay, straight, citizens, immigrants, sick, healthy, rich, poor, young or old (did I cover everyone?), we also deserve freedom and acceptance in the society we live in.