I’m excited to be attending Rooted, a leadership development retreat for trans* and gender-expansive Christians. I’ve been reflecting on the name of the retreat. Rooted. Embedded, established, ingrained. Established deeply and firmly. Like foundations, they are underground, rarely seen or even thought about. But whereas foundations are what we build on, roots are what we grow from. A building can be picked up as it is and moved to a different foundation. But a plant cannot live without its roots. If a root system is unstable or unhealthy, the only way to fix it is to add things to the plant and the soil from which it grows. Fertilizer, water, pesticides, light. If those things are not added, the plant dies.
My roots used to be so unstable.
I had grown from everyone’s else’s expectations. Caretaker. Pretty. Submissive. Girl. Those roots were unhealthy, and I was dying; thirsting desperately for living water and light that I did not know how to find. And then I started dating the man who is now my husband. He saw through me to the unstable roots, and encouraged me to find myself. He added light to the darkness. Then I discovered the LGBTQ+ community, and met some non-binary and gender-expansive people. It was like coming home. That community gave me living water, and I found who I was.
I am no longer the caretaker. I am now the advocate and ally, who strives to walk with people through the darkness and struggle rather than just care for them afterward. I am no longer just pretty. I have discovered my own beauty that can only come from within after truly knowing and learning to love oneself. I am no longer submissive to the wills of others. I am submissive to what I know to be true and right and just, and I’m learning to be assertive in pursuing those truths. And, as I look back, I realize I have never been a girl. I have always been the non-binary, gender-fluid person God meant for me to be.
I have been looking forward to this retreat as an oasis in the desert.
A chance to bring my whole self to worship, without the need to defend my gender or sexuality, without the need to worry whether people will honor my pronouns, without the need to explain why all should be able to fully participate and why some feel they can’t. A chance to just be in worship with a community who loves and supports each other, just as they are. A chance to feel the radical, irrational, all-encompassing peace, love, and grace of God. A chance to rest and renew.
And as excited as I am for all of those things, they make me sad. They make me mourn for the Church I should have, the Church that *everyone* should be a part of. Rooted should just be an addition to an already vibrant, radically inclusive Church. These things I am looking forward to shouldn’t be oases in the desert. They should just be Church.
As I tried to verbalize all of this to a friend, only one sentence came to mind: “Church shouldn’t hurt.” And now that it’s come to light, I can’t stop seeing it. Every time I’m called “she.” Every time I encounter a roadblock on the way to inclusion. Every time I hear another sad story of a person of color or a person with a disability being ignored or feeling lonely in the Church. Every time I get ready for Church like a soldier putting on armor.
The scripture today was about the sower throwing seeds, and the different root structures that form depending on what ground they land. The traditional way to interpret this passage is that the sower is God, the seeds are the Word, and we are the soil. But my pastor disagrees. He said, “We are always the sower, trying to throw the seeds of God’s love out into the world.”
If that’s the case, the Church is often very rocky soil. The roots don’t go as deep as they should. We as a Church are great at welcoming and loving those that look and act like us. We are pretty good at mission when we want to be. Working on Habitat houses, or making a meal for the local homeless shelter, or going to a Church in Africa and helping out with labor projects. But that’s all surface work. Work we do with each other. And like the roots in rocky soil, the Church is withering and dying because the roots are shallow.
What about the deeper things, the things we have to work hard to do? Stepping outside ourselves to truly walk in another’s shoes? Extending a full welcome of love and acceptance to those who don’t look or act or speak like us? Visiting the people we build the houses for and getting to know and love who they are? Staying to share the meals we make for those in homeless shelters? Going on mission trips with the expectation that we can learn just as much or more from them as they can from us?
But this I know, and in this I have hope: seed can grow in rocky soil. There will be growing pains. The roots will crowd each other and get tangled in trying to find their way around the rocks. But with the right care, with more water and light, they can grow tall and deep and strong. And we also have God’s help. If we are open to being shaped by God, we just need to ask, and keep asking, and one by one the rocks can be plucked out. If God helps in that task and we keep adding the things needed for strong growth, the roots can become just like the ones that landed on the good earth.
So, as my pastor said, keep throwing the seed, indiscriminately and abundantly. You never know on what kind of ground it will land. And you never know what miracles God will work, even (and hopefully especially) in the rocky soil of our Church.
So I will go to the soft, fertile ground of Rooted. I will feel my roots expand and relax and deepen. I will soak up the water and the light. And when Rooted is done, I will once again ready myself for the hard work that lies ahead. As long as oases for rejuvenation like Rooted exist, I will keep sowing, keep watching the roots take hold, keep working the ground.
After all, if God hasn’t given up on the Church, then how can we?