Ungracious Saints

So, I’ve been writing a lot of sermons lately…. Yeah. It’s really weird.

Right now I’ve got two jobs. I work at the Harm Reduction Coalition and I work as the Pastoral Intern at a Methodist church. Sex work, drug use, and church ladies. There’s more crossover than you might think.

A year and a half ago I started going to seminary. It’s something I’d thought about doing for a long time. In fact, I’m pretty sure the first time I ever mentioned it to another human was in 2008. I was sitting on a stoop in the Mission drinking tequila out of tiny bottles. I’d just finished one of my first burlesque shows and had gone to one of my date’s houses for, basically, a booty call. Glitter from head to toe, pasties still on, a little drunk, and out of nowhere I looked at her and said, I think I’m gonna go to seminary.

She just kinda looked at me wide eyed for second, laughed, kissed me, and that was that. There has since been MANY jokes about this moment.

Up until that point I didn’t really know that seminary was a thing. I knew I wanted to learn more about faith and ritual. And more than that, I knew I wanted to learn how to hold sacred space for folks who had been made to feel unwelcome in churches. Myself included. But I didn’t know there were schools that would, at least in theory, teach you how to do that.

I suppose I first thought about doing something with the church after going to a series of really fucked up and disrespectful funerals for my friends. I’d lost about 8 friends in a year and I was angry. I’d been a community organizer since I was 14, trying to make life feel a little more livable in my white working class town in Ohio. But still friends kept dying. Overdose, suicide, car accidents while driving drunk, the war. And I remember thinking that if the world wasn’t going to honor the people I loved while they were here then I should at least learn how to bury them with some honor.

These things are related somehow. A moment of feeling fully embodied on a stoop in San Francisco and the desire to learn to bury my dead.

At this point I’m about half way through a 3 year program. It’s getting a little easier and a little more impossible every day.

I spent the first year feeling pretty mad and alone. For the first month or two I sat quietly in class, which is pretty uncommon for me. Raising my hand to make a comment made my heart beat out of my chest. For the first time in a real long time, I was fully out of my element and terrified of getting something wrong. When I spoke I could feel the shudder in my voice and I spent most of the time feeling really, really, stupid. It took me some time to realize that I was allowing myself to be intimidated by intellectual snobbery and near made up words like, hermeneutic, homiletic, and ecumenical.

But more than that, I was playing by someone else’s rules. I thought to be good at what I wanted to learn that I had to learn to talk like they did. And even though the seminary I go to considers itself progressive it is still really white, really christian, and largely attended by upper or middle class students. All of which results in a sort of quiet politeness. The unspoken rules are in full effect.

You don’t swear. You avoid conflict. You don’t talk about sex. You don’t talk about the body. You avoid making anyone too uncomfortable. And you don’t challenge authority.

It’s boring. It’s exhausting. And it’s a bit suffocating.

I’d never wanted a master’s degree. I was the first in my family to go to a four year college and I always felt better working than sitting in a classroom. I wasn’t bred for higher education. In fact my high school counselor told me I shouldn’t even bother applying to community colleges, despite my 4.5 GPA. My family was too poor. I should just find a job and figure it out from there.

But many, if not most, of my fellow students were raised with that quiet sort of politeness. I was not. My family cusses and farts at the dinner table and we only say grace on Christmas.

For example, I once brought a date home with me and about 10 minutes after arriving we sat down for dinner. My mom let loose a huge fart, as per usual, and my Grandma yelled, “Jesus Christ Christine, we have company!”. The family giggled and after a small beat of silence my Grandpa just shook his head, sighed, and said, “I can’t believe I made that with my penis”…..Yeah. That’s how I was raised. My mother has never been called quiet in her life. Ball buster, hoss, stubborn, loud mouthed, but never quiet and never polite.

My mistake was in letting myself believe that their way was more pious or appropriate than our way. I gave them the high ground. I replicated exactly what I’d gone there to undo. I’d forgotten how sacred we are.

And while it’s hard to articulate that at school, it’s equally hard to articulate in community. Especially in so called radical queer community where analysis is supposed to trump emotion, as if they are mutually exclusive. Where faith is only allowed to be something naïve, ignorant, or power hungry. Even though that’s not how many of us were raised. Even though it is often a mixture of some sort of faith and pride that has kept us alive. Even though our Grandmother still tell us that she’ll keep us in her prayers.

We have our own rules. And they’re often defined by white, middle class, masculine, ideals. Just like the ones in the classroom. They’re just coded a bit differently. But both places like to pretend like the sacred and secular are separate. Which I’ve come to feel is a form of spiritual violence.

What I know is that being well fucked, well loved, and well fed is some of the only salvation I’ve known. And I want a space to talk about it. I want a space to be raw and candid and brave. I wanna hear the secret whisperings of people’s spirits and I wanna share mine.

I wanna tell about the night I fucked my ex up against my bedroom door and how when they ejaculated it soaked my hair and pooled in my high heel. I want that recognized as some sort of baptism.

I wanna tell about how when I was a teenager I thought god whispered to me at night. And I wanna talk about how we call it crazy when god talks to queers, to women, to youth, to people on the street, but we call it ministry when a white man with a congregation says the same.

I want my Grandmothers sayings classified as parables.

I want the people I love to know they are holy. Which means they are worthy and on purpose. I want us to be able to play by our own fucking rules.

I’ve learned how to bury my dead. Now I want those deemed too loud, too crude, too real, too much, to be recognized as the most glorious and ungracious of all the saints. Because that’s what we fucking are.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Written for, Class Rage & Gold Chains: Working-Class Femmes Take The News!

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