For those of you who have read my book, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, (and if you haven’t, please do! Shameless plug: It’s available at Charis Books, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and from the publisher, Wipf and Stock) then you know a recurring issue is that I claim tribes that don’t claim me back. I’m sure there is some way to unpack this psychologically or metaphorically but, really, the living of it is just part of who I am.
Here are some good descriptive words: audacious, silly, bold, self-deceived, hopeful, entitled, and brave.
Here’s a good question: what was I thinking?!
Which brings me to the story of the week. As an author I am also learning to be a marketing person. ‘Learning’ being the key term. The best advice says one must identify one’s audience. Who would want to read the book? In my mind it could be anyone: army brats, people of faith, queers of all sorts, feminists, memoir readers, southerners, third culture folk… give me a minute and I could add to that, but you get the idea.
Then there’s the problem that the book, or me for that matter, doesn’t quite fit into any of those categories. Take the ‘people of faith’ category. It isn’t the best fit because I am messy, flawed, unabashedly sexual, and salty. So my story isn’t inspirational in the usual way, nor is it filled with such spiritual insight and practice so as to invite others more deeply into their spiritual lives or impress them with mine.
You get where I’m going here? But I digress. That’s just some background to tell the story of how I and a dear friend travelled to a conference to give a presentation that virtually no one attended. I’ve come to believe it’s yet another case of me claiming a tribe that didn’t claim me back. As I tell this rest of this story be clear: I am not angry, dejected, or sad. Oh, I was but I don’t want to live there and frankly, it would be dishonest, because I might could have anticipated it. Today I am laughing at myself.
…So Erin and I drove to Oxford, MS to Ole Miss to the Southeast Women’s Studies Association Conference to talk about being queer in the church in the South. We were in the pedagogy path and ready to talk about the lived experience on which theory is based. As another dear friend reminded me: stories are lived theory. On the day of our presentation we arrived early at our scheduled room. It was set up for about 75 with our table at the front.
We got the lay of the land and waited for our captive audience to arrive.
The moderator came in, looked around, and spoke with us briefly. No one was coming in for our presentation. I think she went out, grabbed a faculty member, and strong-armed her into coming in. Soooo… we gave our presentation to the moderator and the strong-armed faculty member. We were articulate, engaging, challenging, and charming – all the things you would hope for in a presentation at a conference. And more fun than most because we are both storytellers by profession and nature.
On the drive back we talked about how to describe our experience. “Though the room held 75, we managed to provide an intimate experience.” Okay, it took a couple hundred of miles of driving to get to the belly laugh, but I think we both wanted to get there. Eventually.
Back to the question. Are you my tribe? I assumed that the SEWSA conference was part of my tribe because, well, I’ve been living as a bold, out lesbian, feminist in the South since the mid 70’s. In a gathering of feminists and queer theorists it just seemed like a seamless fit. I claim my tribe. I have something important to add to the conversation. Thoughtful, nuanced, and lived.
But… as so often happens, my tribe did not claim me back. They are not alone and I do not fault them. Much. This experience helped me name a bigger truth: most of my tribes don’t claim me back.
Here’s the thing. I’m gonna keep on claiming you. I’m going to keep insisting that I belong. I’m going to keep on doing it because it’s at the center of my story. And it’s what makes my story universal. It’s at the center of my theology, the way I am in ministry, and the way I live my life: with the absolute certainty that we all belong.
Our deepest truth is that we are all members of the same tribe.
So look for me. I’m coming to a meeting, a group, a gathering near you soon!