As Serena and I were talking the other day, I realized that because of COVID, the Pride Celebrations that are normally held across Canada during the summer months would look quite different this year. I asked Serena if she would consider writing a blog this week and she graciously accepted. I found it very moving and I'm really beginning to look forward to Queer Vespers, a new ministry, that Serena and Comox United Church hopes to launch this fall.
My first Pride was in Vancouver in 1997.
The day did not start off well. I dropped my 10 year old off at her father’s apartment building, where he met us at the door and sent her upstairs. When I asked when and where I was to pick her up, he glared, “When I feel like it. I’m her dad.” Helpless, afraid and dispirited, I rode the bus to the Davie Street Village and made my way to Beach Drive, wondering just exactly what had become of my old life. Had I just dropped out of motherhood, or of the human race?
When I got to the parade route, the crowd was already thick. Shorter than I thought I was, I spy-hopped to catch a glimpse through the maze of people.
Then above me, a voice asked, “do you want to sit up here?” I looked around, wondering whether the voice was speaking to me. “Here,” said the voice, and four strong arms reached down. I reached up, found a foothold on a pillar, and was lifted up to join a small party of men on a balcony overlooking the parade route. Like Zacheus on Palm Sunday, I could see!
Below me was a parade of rainbow colours. Young men in sailor hats danced on a float, their oiled bodies gleaming in the sun. “Dykes with tykes on trikes” peddled cheerfully along in a tangle of rainbow crepe paper streamers. The Rainbow Band marched by in loose formation. There were politicians, police, labour unions and dignitaries showing off their progressive colours for the crowd. There were people of all the colours of Vancouver—Asian and Black and Brown and White and Indiginous, in groups or simply as individuals in the crowd.
I did not cry until the church people went by. Then, the longing that sprang up was too much. I had not been to church in a long time. But I was in the presence of God that day, and I knew it to my toes.
This year, as I wait for a time when the People of God and the People of the Rainbow Flag can once again come out and gather, I reflect upon what Pride means, and why it is so inextricably connected to my Christian faith. Unable to ignore the anguish behind the Black Lives Matter movement, I reflect also upon the connection between celebration and protest, and why we need both.
We celebrate in the light of our shared and diverse humanity, and in return the recognition of each person’s worth will not let the call for justice lie. The healing gaze that gives us back our dignity and identity asks something in return—that we lift up one another to fully experience the freedom that Pride—Gay Pride, Black Pride, Trans Pride, Indigenous Pride—represents when it comes to those who have been marginalized and oppressed.
Jesus knew what this was about. He lived in a world where the vast majority of people were treated by the powers-that-be as disposable. No slave or woman could be counted among the people who mattered, nor could any person with a skin condition, a disability, or a sexual history that fell outside of the narrow limits of acceptability. Tribe and family determined one’s identity, yet these were easily lost in the throes of political conflict, impoverishment, or local troubles. Reputation and honour were everything, and yet few could afford or hold on to either. And among the few people who did matter, surely there was pain and worry about one’s own place in an ever-shifting system of power, control, and cruelty.
To be used or discounted as a thing that does not matter is to feel deep shame. It is to fear any gaze that might cement our worst fear—that we are without worth. And it is also to long for a gaze that tells a different story—that we are each precious beyond price.
So it was that an encounter with Jesus could transform lives. Here was the gaze of someone who saw them, really saw them, and did not turn away. The oddballs, the poor, the sick, the tarnished, those who were paid to suppress the people, and even a few whose questions about life made them uncomfortable with their comfortable positions—they all came to the man from Galilee who made them feel something new. By his gaze and by the depth of his attention and care, they knew the radical breadth and depth of God’s love.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover, this resurrected self-worth of the crowd let loose with spirited Hosanna’s, waving palm branches, and probably dancing. I like to think of this as the first Pride parade: a bunch of marginalized and ordinary nobodies, mixing with some brave and rebellious somebodies, loudly proclaiming the joy of coming out together—each irreplaceable, precious and beyond price in the eyes of God.
Did they see where this would lead, those “Hosanna” chanting masses? It began with jubilation; the collective and individual joy of claiming a shared humanity. In the following days and months and centuries it would challenge, again and again, the systems that declared, even in Jesus’s own name, that some lives mattered more than others.
To really see one another and not turn away, as Jesus would have us do, leads us to celebrate the glorious diversity of lives and, at the same time, take up the call for justice. We cannot separate the two parts. For who can tolerate seeing a fellow child of God die under the knee of another? Who can rest if, seeing the human beauty of one Trans Black woman, we also learn that she has a significant chance of being murdered?
And so we celebrate, mourn, and thirst for justice all at the same time. It’s a heady mix of emotions! It is the essence of Pride, of Black Lives Matter, of Juneteenth (Emancipation Day in the US), and of Christian love. It changes us, and it will, I am certain, change the world—because love is stronger than hate, and God is the essence of love.
Serena Patterson is a member of Comox United Church. In the fall, she plans to launch a monthly Queer Vespers event, moving from online to in person as the COVID 19 situation allows. Details will be forthcoming on the website.