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We Know Us

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

The Vine Singalong Pride Mass, Grace Cathedral

Theme: We Are Family

Gospel passage: Mark 3:20-35

The Rev. Cameron Partridge

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Good evening, beloved people of God! It is an honor to be with you this evening-- thank you to Jude and the Vine team for the invitation to preach. I grew up across the Bay and am proud to serve here in San Francisco at St. Aidan’s in Diamond Heights. For many years this holy space of Grace Cathedral has been a place of grounding and inspiration to me, extending back to visits during my high school and college years, and as I stand before you this evening I give thanks for this space and all spaces and communities where those of us who are LGBTIQ can come into our vocations as human beings wonderfully and fearfully made in God’s image, called to love who we love, to be and become who we are, to claim and create family in a whole host of holy configurations.

As I thought and prayed ahead of my time with you this evening and sat with the gospel passage chosen for this occasion, an old memory came into my mind. A number of years ago – I believe it was the spring or summer of 1995 – my spouse Kateri and I were in New Haven, helping a friend who was looking for an apartment. We had dropped off our friend, parked, and were walking down the sidewalk when we heard a friendly voice calling from across the street. “Helloooo?! Helloooo!” We turned and looked. There was a man leaning out the open window of a van. “Yes, you! I’m talking to you!” he said as we looked questioningly his way. Here let me pause and say that this was about five years before I transitioned, in the years when Kateri’s and my queerness as a couple was more legible than it is now. Not too long before, we’d also had an experience of homophobic harassment on a train in Philadelphia, so we paused in some caution as the man continued. “I’m looking for something,” he said, “and I think you can help me. The pink triangle—I’m looking for the pink triangle.” Kateri and I looked at each other. “Do you mean, like, a bar or bookstore?” I said haltingly. “The symbol! I’m talking about the symbol! You know what I’m talking about!” he replied with infectious mirth. We all started laughing. We crossed the street and he got out to talk with us on the sidewalk. He was new to town and was looking for queer communal spaces to meet folks. Alas, since we were just passing through, we really had no clue. But before we continued on, one of us asked how he thought to call out to us. “Honey,” he replied, “we know us when we see us on the street.” He was absolutely effervescent. He gave us hugs before we continued on our way.

We know us when we see us on the street. I have loved that story for years and have shared it on more than one occasion at the dinner table, as our kids can tell you. What I love about it is the us. Because that “us,” evoked in that strange, momentary encounter, illumined a larger, uncontainable belonging to which queer community at its best can point. That profession of “us” opened the deep power of being seen and known, even if just for a moment, even if by a complete, hilarious stranger. It was an outward and visible sign of a bumper sticker I used to see on all manner of cars, proclaiming “we are everywhere.” It felt like the authentic, liberating spirit of Pride itself, suffused with an energizing joy that cannot finally be contained by the bondage of transphobia, homophobia and biphobia, of misogyny, of racism, of ableism, of classism or of corporate cooptation, of the combinations and intersections of these systems. That sidewalk moment felt like the “us,” the “we” evoked by the word “family” when we use it in queer spaces – as in, that person is family. As in “chosen family,” that phrase of queer familiality that refuses the heteronormative, complementarian constrictions that have been wielded against us for years, usually by those who would tell us in the name of Christianity that we violate so-called “family values.”

Such weaponizing of “family” is an old story, God knows, and lately it has been taking newly horrific forms. The so-called “don’t say gay” legislation, the legislative targeting of trans girls and trans youth more broadly. I’m thinking here of access to athletic opportunities for trans girls and women, with tremendous thanks to swimmer Lia Thomas for her incredible witness and courage.[1] I’m thinking here of the horrific legislative efforts in far too many states to bar access to gender affirming health care for trans youth.[2] I’m thinking here of the precarity of Roe vs. Wade, of the right to bodily autonomy for women and people of all genders. We know of stories, and indeed some of us have personal experience, of being rejected by our families of origin because of our queerness and/or our transness. And we know of stories, and indeed some of us have experienced them, of families of origin who stand by us, who support us as we seek the care we need to grow into the fulness of our emotional, physical, and spiritual stature as beloved human beings made in God’s image. Our chosen families can in fact encompass and incorporate our families of origin—all manner of configurations are possible as we respond to God’s call upon our lives.

Jesus’ own words and witness radically open up the concept of family. The passage we just heard from Mark’s gospel is a classic example of what scholars of early Christianity have for decades referred to as Jesus’ characteristically “anti-familial” rhetoric.[3] Jesus is not interested in reinforcing ideas of family that were endemic to his Roman imperial context. Not long before our passage, Jesus has been about his characteristic work of healing and justice-making, drawing so many people that he needed space – he asked his disciples to prepare a boat so he could get distance from the press of the crowd along the shore (Mark 3:9). His healing practice had also drawn out evil spirits who unnervingly named him as “the Son of God” (1:23-28, 34; 3:11-12). In the wake of these developments, Jesus went up on a mountain and “called to him those whom he wanted” (3:13), twelve disciples whom he would also refer to as apostles. He had constructed a family around him of people who could join in what the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls Jesus’ loving, liberating, life-giving ministry.[4] What theologian Verna Dozier, drawing on the work of Howard Thurman, called “the dream of God,” of “friendly folk beneath a friendly sky… of a good creation of love and peace and justice,” a dream whose high calling the church in its various forms has missed again and again, a dream to which the church is called to return.[5]

Our passage picks up the story with Jesus’ descent from this high point of new family construction, as the crowd returns to press upon him all the more. When his family of origins seeks to intervene, they fail to recognize what he’s up to. Religious authorities, recalling how unseated evil spirits had named Jesus as God’s son, now denounce Jesus as participating in the demonic. Jesus responds with fire: how dare they blaspheme against the Holy Spirit at work in profoundly transformative ways (3:28-30). Amid this frenzied activity, Jesus’ family again seeks to intervene. “Standing outside,” we hear in language that directly parallels Jesus’ calling of the twelve, his family “sent to him and called him” (3:31). The crowd around Jesus conveys their message. Jesus responds with a teachable question: who are my mother, my siblings? And then he goes further, pointing to those gathered around him: here they are. And yet more expansively, “whoever does the will of God is” my [sibling], my parent (3:33-35). As the scholar of early Christianity Dale Martin declares, “Jesus refused to identify with his traditional family…” Jesus saw family as the community that was coming into being, “that shared his vision of a divinely constituted family.”[6] In other words, the gathered community is family. You. Us.

We know us when we see us gathered in community.

We know us when we see us in Grace Cathedral.

We know us when we see us in Dolores Park.

When we stream down Market Street.

We know us in the courage of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, in the witness of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

As we advocate for justice in the face of tyranny.

And even when we experience erasure and profound violation; when we are not in fact recognized in the complexity of our queerness; when people would deny our personhood, our relationships; and worst of all when they would do so in the name of a God whose Spirit can neither be contained nor thwarted: even then, nothing can take what we know from us. We know who we are and we are called to stand together in our strength, a people wonderfully and fearfully made in the image of God through whose Word, in whose Wisdom, all things are made, all things are called into growth, into transformation. We are made to live, move, and have our being in the knowledge and love of a God who sees and knows us. We are created to let that knowledge so suffuse our lives, our loves, that we embody God’s constant invitation to join in enacting the divine dream that Jesus embodied: a dream in which all creation is hallowed, human dignity is uplifted and respected, the fractures and violations of our world are named and mended, injustice is eradicated. We are indeed family in all its complexity and queerness, and we are called to stand and walk forward together tonight and in the days and weeks to come.

[1] [2] See Freedom for All Americans’ legislative tracker: [3] E.g. Elizabeth Clark, “Antifamilial Tendencies in Ancient Christianity,” in Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Jan., 1995), pp. 356-380. [4] The Most Reverend Michael Curry, [5] Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call To Return (New York: NY: Seabury Classics, 1991, 2006), 25, 37. [6] Dale Martin, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation (Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 104.

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