My daughter and I were sitting in our favorite local “vegetarian friendly” diner today. It has haphazard vintage tables strung together, serves all day breakfast to college students, hungover hipsters, and whatever other slices of humanity walk in the door. Growlers, grits, and gluten-free vegan tempeh dishes are all served up amid conversing diners sporting rainbow shades of hair which, in winter, are frequently topped with all forms of hats. There is clearly no dress code: diners wear whatever they feel like, exuding individuality. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are simultaneously served. Fluidity comes in all forms here, from bottomless coffee to local brews to non-binary gender expression.
Did I mention it’s one of my favorite places in town?
We sat down and read through the menu, considering all the vegetarian possibilities. My daughter is adamantly claiming her vegetarian identity these days, so these outings offer good practice for encountering a range of culinary options. I ordered a vegan curried “chicken” salad wrap. Although she stuck with time-honored grilled cheese and french fries this visit, her options widened a bit more for the future. She was more relaxed and at peace with simply being herself than I have seen her in a long time.
Truthfully, it was more than a desire for flesh-free eating that compelled me to suggest our lunch visit today. I am wearied, saddened, and unsettled in my soul by the tragic deaths of beautiful young people like Leelah Alcorn. Whether judged by gender expression, sexual orientation, or other diverse facets of personhood, some beautiful young adults are forced into unsettling hopelessness. I am a social worker who has worked as a grief therapist, so I fully understand the role of mental health challenges that impact suicidality. But, I also agree with Leelah’s last words: society has to change.
While I know that changing society isn’t as simple as lunching in our hipster dive, there is a lesson to be learned here. No one was cast a funny look, not even the relatively mainstream college professor and her tween daughter. We were all seated and served, said hellos, happened to see a friend or two, sat amid strangers and asked for ketchup from a table with two bottles when our table had none…and it was gladly shared. It’s a sub-culture of sharing and acceptance here. We talked about that openly, felt it, and lived it. If I can offer my child one thing, and one thing only, it will be this reality: you are loved and welcomed, exactly as you are. So is everyone else. That was today’s message, implicitly and explicitly.
What would the world be like if we could get over ourselves enough to read through the entire menu to see what all the options were, even if we ended up sticking with the familiar? How amazing would it be to sit and serve and sip with people who experience life so very differently from us, and yet we could share a common place that feels like home? We might even learn that our options are far wider than we ever realized on our own, and find others who seem so different on the surface, but also love the same things we love.
There is another place where this level of radical love and welcome can happen. The Church has that potential, even if we have not always lived into it. I am committed to creating it, living it and nurturing it into being. Radical hospitality, grace, welcome, communion: we can choose to feed others and be fed in a place of welcome. We can choose to be that place of radical welcome.
Being unsettled has a purpose: it’s the harbinger of necessary change that is ready to be set free. We will be unsettled until we can stop judging, until we can stop fearing.
Yes: Society has to change. Church has to change.
Yes: Society has to be forgiven. Church has to be forgiven.
We must learn to share, to serve, and to trust the radically perfect love and welcoming grace of God. We simply need to see it, live it, experience it reflected in the amazing and vibrant diversity of all who surround us.
It is in that radical love and grace where my unsettled spirit can rest tonight.