Adversarial

Written for and presented at the September 30, 2021 chapel service at Drew Theological School. Video / Order of Worship.

Adversarial

A poem in 7 movements

1.

He was a new friend.
He asked me
To explain
The harm
Caused
By the church.

I don’t think he could
Imagine it.

But how do I explain
All that is
Invisible and unresolved
In my body?

2.

She was a Southern Baptist missionary
Who loved me
And told me
It was wrong.

Not imperfect love
Like being human.
She meant that
Our love was
categorically
Inappropriate.

And I breathed it in
Day after day:
If Loving me is wrong,
….
I must not be right.

I learned to hold it in,
Started throwing up
At inconvenient moments
When some part of me
Deep inside
Demanded
To be let out.

“Don’t be adversarial.”
I told my body.

3.

In Albuquerque
The General Assembly
Of the Presbyterian church
Said “No”
To me.

They called it “fidelity and chastity.”
We marched through the convention center,
Singing.

They called us
Disruptive
And refused to
Look us in the eyes.
“Don’t be adversarial,”
They told us,
But they seemed to mean
That we
Should know our place.

4.

Instead of going to seminary
25 years ago,
I fell in love
With a United Methodist pastor
Who wanted to teach
Queer young people
In her care
About God’s love.

But first,
She had to tell her Bishop,
And then her congregation,
And then the Committee on Investigation,
Chaired by her childhood pastor,
And then a jury of her peers.

She wanted to talk about
Love
And our life together.
But the prosecutor wanted to know
About our “genital sexual activity”
On the record
In front of 200 people
In folding chairs
In the gymnasium
Where our daughter now goes to United Methodist summer camp.

“Self-avowed practicing homosexuals:”
They wanted to know
For sure
If we were
Still practicing.

It was the lead story
on America Online
that day.
“Don’t say queer,”
our press advisor told us,
You don’t want to come off
Adversarial.

5.

I wouldn’t be here
At all
If there hadn’t been
someone
For me to call
Who could testify
That this place
Might not kill me
All over again.

I had to bring my daughter to summer camp this year.
It’s more than awkward
For me
To go back
To that place.

I have to wonder if Jesus
Went back, too,
During those post resurrection rounds that maybe didn’t get recorded:

To Calvary
To Golgotha
To the soldiers
To Pontius Pilate.

Did Jesus also show
Them
The scars?

Or would that have been too
Adversarial?

6.

I considered
Not coming back
After my first semester
On zoom
And email.

I did my own Jericho walk
7 times
Around seminary hall,
Because I was sure
That, after an 75 minute commute
To get here
With this body,
My 49 year old bladder
Would need
To use
The bathroom.

After three months
Of private emails
And offers to help
Make it better,
A faculty member
Wrote to me
Saying,
“Don’t be so
Adversarial.”

7.

I lie awake
Many a night
Trying to figure out
How
To embrace the person
Your God
Made me
To be

And also
Not be
So
Adversarial.

I hold that tension
In my body,
Hold my breath just a little
All the time,
Rehearse the words,
Imagine the conversations,
Over and over again,
Trying to find a more graceful way
To choose my battles
Without engendering
So much confrontation.

The problem with me
Is that
I am stubborn
And uppity
And I know
I deserve
Something
Better.

But if I tell you about my scars,
It’s because
I trusted you
Enough
To try.

And I will tell you
How I rise:

It is because
I am
Adversarial
Enough
To keep showing up
In places
That clearly
Are not ready for me
Yet.

This is my body,
Catalyst for
United Methodist
Judicial Council
Decision number
1 0 2 7.

And it is
Emotional labor,
An act of faith,
And maybe even
A tiny resurrection,
Every time
I decide
Once again
To walk through the doors
Of a United Methodist chapel
Like this one.

Thanks be to God.
Blessed be.
Alu.

(c) 2021 Chris Paige. All rights reserved.

Note: It took four years for Drew Theological School to get clearance to place a paper/plastic sign on the door of one of the six bathrooms in Seminary Hall. The new sign debuted during the second semester of my Master of Divinity degree, but was the result of the advocacy of many. In particular, I want to note that at least 4 non binary students had been in classes in Seminary Hall throughout that time without access to an all gender bathroom on the premises.

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