The Stories of Women…

Elie Wiesel once wrote, ‘…what do travelers with a long journey ahead of them do? They tell each other stories. So – let us tell each other stories.’ [1]

I’d like to share with you stories of the women I’ve met in this stage of my faith journey. Each one of them has impacted me significantly, and these experiences keep adding to the sum of who I am.

The stories of women I have met in this part of my journey are inspiring.

A transgender woman first came to our congregation, afraid to say ‘boo!’ As the weeks and months went by, she became more and more involved with the congregation, and with LGBTQ issues. Then, when our first ‘queer saint’ took his life on Christmas Eve 2013, she sprang into action, joining with others to make sure that a support center for LGBTQ youth could be established in Korea…

Included in those people she joined forces with is pastor of a progressive Presbyterian congregation in Seoul. She is pastor within a wing of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (the PROK) that is steeped in Minjung (people’s) theology, a sort of ‘liberation theology’ within the Korean context. However, she decided to establish a congregation with an explicit focus on LGBT issues. Even though she still advocates for a number of social causes (for which she regularly appears at demonstrations and, on occasion, gets arrested!), she also advocated tirelessly to make sure this LGBTQ youth support center had secure initial funding to get off the ground…

Now, Edhi has found her voice as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, and serves as a staff person at DdingDong, the LGBTQ Youth Crisis Center. The Rev Dr Bora Lim continues to fight for social justice in the name of the Gospel, and is ready to help form a coalition to counteract the latest foolhardiness from the conservative Protestant movement, a ‘homosexual counselling healing school’ (see ‘Steps Forward, Steps Back’, 30 January 2016)…

The stories of women I have met in this part of my journey are have been heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.

My wife and I had the privilege of cooking lunch for some of the teens who gather at DdingDong on a Saturday in early November. It’s part of their ‘Saturday Restaurant’ program. As Youngoak worked on serving up meatloaf to our young guests, I sat with the young teen women who joined us that day, and with the help of a staff person who was able to do some translating, learned about their stories.

The majority of them had to tell their parents they were ‘just meeting friends’.

Almost all of them were going to independent ‘Christian schools’ which got their curricula from places like Bob Jones University (Good Lord, protect these young minds from such drivel!).

A couple were brave enough to be ‘out’ to their parents, but were getting, at best, grudging support from their parents.

Yet, after a couple of hours eating lunch and playing board games with us, they all decided to go out together for coffee afterwards. Even the shiest one, the one who tried to respectfully bow out, was persuaded to join her friends. Edhi told us that was the first time a thing like that happened…

A young transgender woman in the midst of her transition started coming to our congregation at the beginning of this year. She had spent time studying in the UK, but has come back to Korea for Masters-level Study. Her brother is supportive of her transition, but her mother busies herself with other things, probably just trying to avoid dealing with the whole affair. In spite of it all, she comes to our congregation on a regular basis with a smile and a warm embrace for everyone…

Another young woman has just started coming to our congregation, as well. She comes from down south and went to a prominent ‘Christian university’. After she graduated, she came to Seoul and landed a job in software development. I can only imagine – was there anyone among her friends, her faculty, her fellow students, whom she could come out to? Who among those university contacts would continue to offer friendship to her if she revealed that part of her which she probably had to keep buried for so long?

She told me how glad she was to find a community of faith that welcomed her – she’s going to start helping with readings in our services…

The stories of women I have met in this part of my journey have left me at times not knowing what to say.

One of the members of our community who happened to be at the first service I attended has come sporadically. She was raised in a strict Assemblies of God environment and couldn’t really break free of it until she came to Korea to teach. She told me that the first time she came to a service, she walked up the street to our meeting place and then quickly turned around. One of the other members, seeing her turn around, said, ‘I think she’ll be back.’

Indeed, she was back, but she still doesn’t come regularly. She is really angry with the hatred that’s spewed out in the name of so-called ‘Christian love’ from conservative Christians, both in the US and Korea, that she has trouble attending any church, even an affirming one. Moreover, she doesn’t want to hear any claptrap about how she should ‘just forgive and love’ those who hurt her in the past. That might satisfy some people, but not her.

I won’t subject her to that gobbledygook, but all I can say to her is, ‘I miss you. We miss you.’…

I met a young woman at a public lecture recently. She’s an American citizen of Korean heritage who has come back to Korea for a period of work. As might be expected, she has not been able to come out to her parents, but it’s compounded by the fact that she’s married. Imagine – she has found another woman whom she loves and wants to make a life with, and she can’t share that with her family of birth? Understandably, she and her spouse don’t go to church here, saying that they are sick and tired of hearing the message of judgment and condemnation that they would undoubtedly get here. All I can offer them is, ‘Well, you won’t hear that from us!’ I’m under no illusions as to think that would be enough for them…

The stories of women I have met in this part of my journey have left me feeling nothing but gratitude that they’re part of my life. These last two stories are not LBT stories, but they’re both very important to me, so I hope you’ll grant me the forbearance to share them with you.

There was someone I sang with in my chamber choir who, I must confess, kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I found her pushy, abrasive, and just not that much fun to be around. Well, we found our ways to co-operate in our choir work, and we had a reasonable working relationship. She left the choir to pursue a new job, and I eventually had to scale back my involvement for health reasons. We saw each other in the autumn and winter for the ‘Messiah’ thing. But then, at last year’s, she said she was planning to move back to the States. I found out about her ‘hail and farewell’ party through FB (like ya would![2]) and went. I was totally unprepared, though, for her parting words to me when I took my leave. She said, ‘I am so sorry I didn’t try to get to know you better.’ She spoke of the pain she was going through with her old friends leaving the choir, and that she didn’t really have the energy to try to get to know new people. And then she said, ‘I really regret that because I think you are one of the sweetest, most genuine people I know. I am so, so sorry.’

I could have been knocked over with a feather. I didn’t even realize how much I had needed to hear those words, but with those words she gave me a whoop-ass lesson in reconciliation! I hugged her through my tears…

When I realized that the Divine was not done with me yet, there was one person in my life of whom I was unsure what her reaction was going to be – my wife! When I met her almost two decades ago, I told her about my past in the church, but that I had closed that door and saw no reason to re-open it. Everything was fine until I heard those damned Christmas sermons (see ‘What This Blog Is About’, 19 May 2015)! I had no idea what her reaction was going to be. Yet, when we had our first meal after I told her, she gently asked me, ‘Would you like to pray?’ She has attended with me, has become my de facto techie, has done her best to be a general kind of ‘den mother’ for our congregation, small as it is – she even took part in the laying on of hands at my ordination. Her background is Buddhist, although she never really practiced it, and she now calls herself a non-believer (which is, as far as I can tell, a step up from atheist), but she has rolled with it better than I ever could have expected. I’m so grateful that she’s the No. 1 in my life…

‘(What) do travelers with a long journey ahead of them do? They tell each other stories. So – let us tell each other stories.’ Take the time to tell each other stories of the people who have impacted your lives, your faith journeys.

[1] Wiesel, E (1982) ‘The School of Worke’. In Somewhere A Master: Hasidic Portraits and Legends (New York: Summit).

[2] The Newfoundland equivalent to a phrase like ‘As you do’ (‘as would normally happen’).

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