Uninvited to Speak
I knew one day I would have one of these stories. I really didn’t want to have a story like this so soon, and definitely not for what has caused this, but none the less, it is what it is. I want to share this story because, well, I’m learning a lot through it and I hope I can encourage others when they face the painful bumps of rejection.
At the beginning of the year I was asked to consider speaking at a youth camp in a nearby state. The camp directors shared the inspiration they had gleaned from JUSTembrace and, in fact, hoped to use JUSTembrace as their camp theme. I was truly honored, but doubted their decision to invite me to be the main speaker of their conservative youth camp. Fear of letting a slang word slip from the pulpit was up there with my fears, but mostly I was afraid of the expectations of what and how to carry on the speaking portion of youth camp which usually consists of a night focused on salvation, re-dedication, evangelism and sanctification. However, as I explained my concerns, I DID see a clear vision for how a youth camp could be beautifully designed around the JUSTembrace values of Inclusivity, Generosity and Hospitality – especially considering those values combat the core brokenness of Issolation, Greed and Selfishness. I knew I had plenty of material for a week of camp – but it would be a totally fresh approach.
After the camp board converged and reconsidered their offer, I was re-invited to be the day-time seminar speaker and another seasoned camp evangelist was enlisted to present the evening messages. I was thrilled with this set up and still blown away at this camp’s passion to focus on JUSTembrace this year at summer camp! They were even gathering loads of donations to lavish on us that would have been a tremendous blessing to the Restorative work we’re doing here in Chicago.
Months passed and, 3 weeks before camp was set to start, I was contacted with some questions about my theological standing – mainly, how did my personal faith line up with the denominations 21 faith statements – and specifically the one having to do with human sexuality especially as it pertains to homosexuality.
Shaking in my boots, and after a long and tearful conversation with my father (my best pastor-friend who also happens to be a faithful leader within the same denomination), I responded.
I invited the leaders into a dialogue and admitted not having an ironed out faith statement – especially not one to compare to the 21 statements of this denomination – but I was willing to talk through the possible issues. I also mentioned that I understood if the leadership may have bitten off more than they could chew with stepping outside the denomination and inviting me to speak. I was willing to entertain the idea that this would not work out in the long run.
The follow-up phone call a few days later was the official un-invite.
As I listened to the reasons – mainly my views on homosexuality as deduced through facebook posts do not line up with the denominations stances – I knew I was at a crossroads.
I thought back to the blogs I’ve read recently from others who were un-invited to speak. I thought about how those blogs prepared me for this – how they gave me a sense of community with other prophetic voices who are forced to the margins of the traditional Church. I thought about this blog – how I would, if I would write it.
And I thought about my dad.
And I thought about my brother.
And I thought about my grandparents.
And I thought about my great grandparents.
All of whom have given their lives in service and leadership in this same denomination. I thought about my favorite professors and other leaders who have shaped me and influenced me and taught me about God – still teach me about God.
My response to my un-invitation was like this:
“I understand. I respect your decision. I think it was the right choice. If there is a more appropriate way JUSTembrace can come alongside you and your community in the future, I would love to explore those ideas!”
And I meant it. Here’s why:
These leaders are responsible for upholding the faith statements of their denomination. It is their life passion and calling to lead bodies of believers in the unique theological niche they have studied and ascribe to. It is necessary for them to consider the BEST way to lead those congregations and their children. I understand that sometimes that means baby steps. Sometimes that means needing a prophet within the organization- and not one outside. I understand that and I respect it. The very fact that they were even willing to engage the conversation to begin with is HUGE and I commend them for that! While I have hurt feelings and systemic frustrations to process – I really do “get it”.
I want myself and JUSTembrace to be exactly what we CAN be for anyone or group without watering down what we’re about or shifting to borrow ideas that aren’t central to who we are. So, maybe youth camp speaker isn’t the right fit – but maybe seminar speaker at a conference is. I’m deeply humbled by the opportunities I have had and continue to have to influence the church that gave birth to me and raised me. While the sting of rejection is real, I believe it is necessary for me to struggle apart from the embrace of that denomination in order to become the best possible blessing and gift to it.
I hope I can respond to rejections like these with this perspective in the future.
We must allow people to be where they are if we ever hope to have influence in their lives. Even when that means rejection .
If we hope for acceptance or trust, we have to surrender to the limitations of our brothers and sisters with honor – not condemnation.
So the next time someone tells you that you’re not the right fit – take a step back and accept that truth for them. Stay open to the idea that there’s another scenario out there where you both can find ground to grow together in! You won’t find that fertile ground though, if you fight for a fit that isn’t welcoming to you.
At small group tonight I shared this story with the guys in the community. One guy, a homosexual who often cross-dresses, was very upset by the whole thing, and I could understand why. It was hard to hear his pain as my own rejection forced him into a torrent of rejection himself.
We spent the night looking at Scripture in 1 John 1 and 3 talking about sin. Then we wrapped up talking about John 15 and my favorite image of the vine and the branches. Any fruit we hope to bear must be born from the Spirit – any freedom from sin must come from the grace of God through Christ.
Posture was the key word – The posture of abiding. The posture of remaining. The posture of submission.
Baby steps are a lot about posture.
Hearing 2 of the guys end our small group by praying for the camp leadership and for us all as we strive to honor God was the best gift to come out of this painful rejection.
Well, that and the fact that I booked a trip to go spend the week of camp with my family on vacation! Woo hoo!!