reclaiming worship music for the queers


WE'RE TAKING IT ALL BACK


If there's one common thread that's been running through this entire year of 2018, it has to be the fact that everything about this year feels incredibly different and new than any other and in a different way than any other, something I've already talked a little about

Something that's been a big part of this unfamiliarity is perhaps how I finally found my way back to church and how it's finally become something meaningful again. I write a lot about being queer, and if you follow me at all on Twitter, you'll notice that I tend to float around the queer, progressive, #exvangelical circles. Those places have provided me virtual community I've never been able to find before, and at the same time, I know that my faith is still an integral part of my life and who I am. And for all the ways and times I've been burned by Christians and the church, there's something deep inside of me that reminds me that isn't who God is. And so I'm still here. I still call myself a Christian, albeit hesitantly sometimes, just because I know of all the different connotations and pictures people will get in their head associated with that word. But if there's been anything about organized Christianity that's been particularly sticky for me (anti-queer theology and the like aside), it's worship music and the often problematic relationship Christians have with it.


FOR ALL THE WAYS AND TIMES I'VE BEEN BURNED BY CHRISTIANS, THERE'S SOMETHING DEEP INSIDE OF ME THAT REMINDS ME THAT ISN'T WHO GOD IS


As I went through my process of finally coming out as queer to myself and others, I found myself growing increasingly bitter towards church, but especially the entire concept and notion of corporate worship and worship music. Amidst all the soul searching I was forced to do as a queer person trying to figure out where I fit in the church, I had to resist the urge to be openly dismissive and antagonist towards all the superfluous displays of what I felt like were fake spiritual experiences at worship nights and the like. All I could think about was how it was so easy for all these Christians around me to get into worship when they didn't have to worry about whether or not other people would still think of them the same after coming out. Sure, yeah, all of you sing that bridge to Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) when you don't really have anything to lose. But you'll be telling me I'm not a real Christian as soon as the worship set is over.

Beyond that, every song that had any twinge of talking about how we're sinners or how we need forgiveness felt like an attack on me, since that's what so many people defaulted to when they found out I was queer. A lot of this probably had more to do with the toxic notions of God I had been fed my whole life, but regardless, worship music very quickly became something I rolled my eyes at more than actually participated in. Because of the way theology had been weaponized against me, worship no longer felt safe.


BECAUSE OF THE WAY THEOLOGY HAD BEEN WEAPONIZED AGAINST ME, WORSHIP NO LONGER FELT SAFE


Fast forward to the present and several different pieces have fallen into place that finally make worship music feel a little sacred again. A big part of that has been cultivating a healthier view of who God is, (which could be another blog post in and of itself) but I think another big part of it has been learning to see worship music as a form of queer Christian resistance, something my friend Nathanial Totten and I have talked about a bit on Twitter.

Name any big church or worship music outlet. Almost any single one you can think of will have an officially unaffirming theological stance. This used to be something that got me all hot and bothered and rubbed me the wrong way on so many different levels, but I'm learning more and more that was because I was allowing myself to be bothered by the fact that I felt like I needed the *approval* of Bethel Music, Elevation Worship, or Jesus Culture to make that worship my own when the reality is, I don't. No queer Christian needs the permission of anyone to reclaim and own the worship music put out by unaffirming worship leaders. It's true that they probably aren't going to be affirming and that they didn't have affirming theology in mind when they wrote certain lines, but that doesn't mean we have to let those people own those lyrics.


WHAT I'VE BEEN LEARNING IS TO SEE WORSHIP MUSIC AS A FORM OF QUEER CHRISTIAN RESISTANCE


Take these lyrics from Hillsong Worship's Who You Say I Am for example:

I am chosen
Not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me
Not against me
I am who You say I am

These lyrics read as a pretty generic, standard worship bridge at first glance. But read them from the vantage point of queer affirming theology and those lyrics suddenly become a lot more powerful. And you can bet I've shouted those words in my car with queer affirming theology in mind.

Try these lyrics from Bethel Music's No Longer Slaves, read again from a queer affirming perspective:

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me and I
Stand and sing
I am child of God

Let's do one more from Cory Asbury's Reckless Love:

There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me


READ THEM FROM A PERSPECTIVE OF QUEER AFFIRMING THEOLOGY AND THE LYRICS SUDDENLY BECOME A LOT MORE POWERFUL


Healing from spiritual trauma, especially from something that's as closely connected to your soul as worship and worship music, can take a hella long time, and everyone heals at their own pace. There are lots of people in my life who are still unlearning the toxic ways they were taught to experience and view God, and sometimes that means they're still not ready or able to participate in this kind of worship in a way that's life giving to them. So, I'm definitely not saying to just change your mind about everything already so that you can get back into worship music. Not at all.

But in the spirit of Pride Month and as a queer Christian, this is something I've personally been in the process of reclaiming and something that continues to make me feel a little more whole every day as I work through that process. It feels good to reclaim worship music in a way that simultaneously helps me reconnect with God in a way that I've always appreciated in the past while also giving an emphatic middle finger to any worship leader or group who would try to marginalize me and tell me that I'm not a real Christian just because I'm queer.

This reclamation is saying that we don't have to play by the bogus rules that straight Christians have made up. This reclamation is saying other people don't get to police your relationship with God. And this reclamation is equal parts healing and equal parts defiant, which is just how I like things.


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