In my last piece, I connected how collective rejection can become much more socially and emotionally disturbing than individual rejection and concluded that perhaps, after systematically experiencing rejection from a diverse group of communities, I can no longer personally identify the value community. Specifically, what I cannot conclude is that the return on investment is worth it…
Community: Is it too high risk after systematically experiencing rejection?
That’s a very harsh reality for some to hear, because they assume first, that I am just unwilling to “try again.” Another common question/assumption is that the places where I have in fact “tried again” were just not the right fit.
So I have to sit back now and unravel the larger question of what makes the “right fit” for those who have experienced collective rejection, repeated specifically through communities of faith. If the problem isn’t me, how do I interpret and reconcile the following experiences?
Bible College: The place where I invested my college education, grew to love the free and responsible search for truth, and transformed into the adult I am – engaged in questions of faith, open to all experiences, and comfortable with diverse communities. I didn’t exactly receive an education that encouraged inclusive dialogue, but it is what I took away from my time there. This is still the place that disowns its connection to me. After graduation, several professors refused to even look me in the eye, acknowledge my requests to speak further, or address that the collective response to homosexuality was harmful, let alone short-sighted for the community of faith. I was shut out, uninvited and collectively ignored. It was even brought to my attention in the years that followed that this is the same school that discontinued its womens’ basketball program one year because there were allegations of “lesbian activity” on the team. When a community decides to instill collective “head in the sand” responses to conflict (conflict = an opportunity to be inclusive to new ideas), what is the gain? How do I learn to trust that communities can be inclusive to dialogue, knowing this example proves otherwise?
Presbyterian Church Youth Minister: A place where I was free to be “out” and “Christian” didn’t lead to an inclusive experience… my time there, while equally shaping my adult experiences, as well as enhancing my understanding and compassion for the human condition, left me in the cold when my “supervisors” did not approve of my style of youth ministry – bringing diverse young people together in various home-settings instead of inside the walls of the church… what the hell was I thinking? “Yes, but are they going to come to Sunday School too?” I was asked. “Yes, it’s nice that some of the Jewish kids are coming to the group too, but what is the point?” I knew that if these questions had to be asked, I was once again, in the wrong community. How do I learn to trust that communities can be inclusive, knowing this example proves otherwise?
Gay-Affirming Church Minister: Here, I served in the role of a
“Teaching Pastor” at a church plant that partnered with a gay-affirming United Methodist Church. We engaged in basic Christian Church-type stuff – worship, preaching, tithing/offering, outreach… so when I invited the board to allow for me to do a pulpit swap with our host church and they asked, “Why would you need to go to the straight UMC church? They don’t believe what we believe?” you can imagine this was yet another strike against the value of community. When this board also found itself arguing over whether we should go on a mission trip with the “straight church,” my resignation took form in my head. Goodbye “gay-affirming” church… that wouldn’t include straight people… how do I learn to trust that communities can be inclusive, knowing this example proves otherwise?
Enter… gay-affirming, other faith-affirming Unitarian Universalist Congregation: It would be highly expected that as a Director of Religious Education, I could both give and receive in a community of beloved souls. Here, I would learn early on though, that the pastor’s approach for passively letting the committees lead without challenge would derail any attempts I would make of including a unique style to how the youth were encouraged to grown in their faith experiences. Repeatedly I was instructed to uphold the “status quo” of a particular brand of exclusive practices geared at appeasing misplaced egos. I watched as my wavering faith in community was ripped from my eager hands… I would resign in a year, my heart beaten and bruised by the very place I thought would reconcile for me that fear of communities and group think as inherently dangerous was unfounded. Still, a key experience here was how a congregation could collaborate with external organizations and host the only gay-affirming prom for teenagers for 5 years in a row! I served in a volunteer role, where no one single person made any decisions about how this event went. I learned to appreciate what could be gained from networking with other communities, without staying loyal to only one… still, I was left with the question though of how I could be a part of an inclusive community, knowing this example proved otherwise. It was close… but not inclusive enough.
For good measure, enter one more last ditch effort at Christianity – A mediocre version of a “gay-affirming” Baptist congregation where creativity was embraced: I can only say that I landed back in a Christian-based community of faith for two reasons – The first reason is that I was as broken as I had ever been, after a break-up with my partner of 4 years. Joining this community and all that those 18 months there entailed was the epitome of a rebound relationship. The second reason, however, was a reason that I still cherish… this community focused on the power of artistic expression. A spiritually-based group of self-avowed artists seemed safe enough, specifically since I knew that the artistic mind is usually inclusive by nature. It wasn’t long until I saw that unless I also followed the status quo of never questioning the pastoral leadership, I was going to find myself on the outside of these walls, once again. Requesting closure and a mutual understanding only left me more broken… but also certain that with all these examples how trusting communities to be inclusive only led to an example that proves otherwise… I left knowing that I may never bother trusting community again…
So what we have here is a repeated experience where the outsider isn’t “let in” entirely, but continues to be perhaps tolerated, maybe even trusted temporarily, but eventually becomes uninvited to the community, forever and ever, amen. No closure. No exit strategy. No common ground. No mutual respect. No understanding. Only silence… or worse, only rumors.
I’m left with the belief that it is assumed that I’m just another person who left because I didn’t fit in and that the groups involved “tried all they could” to embrace me or learn something from someone different and new.
Did they try all they could or was their allegiance to a status quo much more important?
And does “status quo” exist in personal relationships the way it does in communities? Does the question of “How has it always been done?” even matter outside of the four walls of an organization?
Over and over, we hear how businesses thrive from allowing themselves to be in diverse environments, asking hard and new questions, challenging themselves with new ideas and growing from revisiting topics they had previously determined were set in stone.
Still, in every community I have ever attempted to engage in, I eventually find myself walking away (or being chased away) because the door is not open… the walls are too high… and the authorities are white-knuckling their sense of power like it is in fact, all they have in this world.
So what is there to conclude from my experiences of collective rejection?
This Rejection Reflection informs us of three things:
- Telling someone to “try again” is not always helpful. It’s not our place and sometimes, it may be more hurtful than helpful.
- Organizations can do powerful things if they are part of a consortium of influences and larger community.
- The most valuable asset to your communities are the people who leave them. Why? Because they know why others consider it and they were brave enough to take the personal risk. They were willing to break their own hearts rather than give any more sense of allegiance to your cause… that says something powerful about your “cause”, doesn’t it?
I may never get an opportunity to put any perspective to the situations I’ve seen in the above-mentioned communities. I want to explain my own broken attempts, what baggage I was bringing to the table, and own my part of the processes as much as I hope others could do the same… but that also threatens the establishment and I know it… so…
The search for closure for these experiences is just as futile as the search for closure from events that I spoke about in parts 1 and 2.
This is the new crossroads…
Not seeking closure, but seeking openness… a community , in fact, without walls.
Does it exist?
I wager this is why our social media connections have become so valuable. I feel more connected to people I’ve never met and faces I’ve never seen live. Screen-based personalities have spoken into my fears of loneliness and awareness of rejection in ways that only a beloved community truly can…
And their words and compassion have prevented the rejection from taking over…
Their connections free me to take responsibility for any role I played in making it more difficult to “be invited,” but they also assure me that those who put up hoops and obstacles are not the people I want to share community with anyway…
I have my friends, dear people scattered across the globe and also dear friends locally. I have my family… and I have my wife… I have my work and I have my natural world, where I am most connected. I even have my global sense of tribe.
But do I have community? Is there value in it?
Here’s what I have in that regard: I have Facebook.
For better or for worse, I am becoming convinced it is where the uninvited go…
Think about this the next time you “Friend” or “Un-friend” someone. For some, it isn’t “just social media.” It’s social everything. This is both fortunate and unfortunate!
So let’s walk gently and remember that those who value it will cherish you as part of their communities, cyber and wall-less as they are. There is also no authority head or committee who can override us so… onward and upward with your postings of your lunch routine, your rants, your selfies, and your weekend plans. Why not?
If we are community, let’s show ‘em how it’s done – people… being… people.
Stay tuned for the 4th and final part of the Rejection Reflection series, where I will discuss techniques for healing ourselves from the well-established and reasonable fear of… others… and discovering how acceptance can become the new normal…
Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose recent book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News, SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.