Staying Power

Laurel Marshall Potter

Today’s post is from guest contributor Laurel Marshall Potter. Laurel is a Ph.D. candidate in Systematic and Comparative Theology at Boston College, with interests including decolonial thought and praxis and Latin American liberation theologies. Laurel worships and researches in collaboration with marginal ecclesial communities in El Salvador, where she lived and worked for several years.

Today’s liturgical readings can be found here.

Is it worth it to stay?

Nearly every LGBTQ+ Catholic has had this thought cross their mind. To be a queer Catholic is often to stand in the doorway of the church, to be halved by its walls. When Jesus asks the sons of Zebedee in today’s Gospel if they can drink the cup that he will drink, we think of the many ways, large and small, our queer siblings are crucified. This month marks the 23rd anniversary of the night Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a fencepost in Laramie, Wyoming, before dying in the hospital six days later. I have no doubt that this month also marks the anniversary of many more anonymous victims of LGBTQ+ hate crimes, victims who are disproportionately trans, women, BIPOC, femme, disabled, poor, and undocumented. To stay with a church whose teachings contribute to these sufferings is to drink a helluva cup.

Is it worth it to stay?

Let me be clear; the answer is sometimes no. This post is not a pitch to remain Catholic. I went to a barbecue last week celebrating two queer friends who grew up Catholic. This year, they were received into the Episcopalian and Lutheran churches. We are all lucky to share a world with these two women who bring their whole selves to be seen and pruned by their community.

Such celebration is what church should be. “The glory of God,” says soon-to-be-doctor-of-the-church St. Irenaeus, “is the human being fully alive.” I want all of my queer siblings to be fully alive; to bring our full lives to church; to be strengthened in our dreams, our relationships, our marriages, our parenting, our losses. To sacrifice this to pass inside the walls—to deny seeking to glorify God in exchange for the tolerance of this world—is not what God wants. My friends are heralds of Jesus’s return.

Is it worth it to stay?

This is what I hear James and John asking Jesus. Is it worth it? All this danger and suffering? All of the ridicule, the torture, the hunger, the rejection? Will I at least get my reward when it’s all over? Will you recognize that I stuck it out?

And Jesus rebukes them. There is no reward for sticking it out; performative martyrdom plays the same manipulative game of exchange and debt that got us into this violent mess in the first place. It’s what the rulers of this world want: self-flagellation, public displays of loyalty, strategic sacrifice, placing your light under a bushel basket so the glare doesn’t get in anyone’s eye. The only thing that keeps us going sometimes is imagining meeting Cardinal Burke or self-righteous family members at the pearly gates and watching their jaw drop as we ascend to our glorious seat of vindication, but here Jesus tells us: Beloved, that ain’t it.

Is it worth it to stay?

Allow me to map the terrain of my consolation:

I don’t even know where I am. I am outside the doors, and the warm glow from the stained-glass windows keeps my eyes from adjusting to the moonless, dark wilderness that surrounds the church. The air is cold and dry, and a tumbleweed brushes my foot. Did I choose this, looking in from the outside, or did the walls simply go up on the wrong side of me? I can’t remember when I arrived or if I’ve always been out here. I press my nose to a piece of clear glass—some angel’s robe or God’s own beard—and see that they’ve started eating without me.

I become aware of a presence at my side. Twisting my neck to squint into the dark behind me, I see several huddled figures out here in the cold, hunched over small fires. The child next to me takes my hand and leads me to the nearest group. They spoon something hot and fragrant into a bowl, and I let the steam soothe my stiff face.

Is it worth it to stay?

Jesus tells his followers to be last, to be servants. Liminal belonging, being fed by and feeding other outcasts, turning our faces from the glowing center of power towards the scattered, flickering lights of the wilderness; this is the cup from which we all are to drink. One great gift of being queer, if we are able to accept it, is the gift of being among the last already. The task is not to get inside the doors. The task is to stay out here, to preach the Gospel with our lives, and to wait for the walls to come tumbling down.

Laurel Marshall Potter, October 17, 2021

7 replies
  1. Lillian Moskeland
    Lillian Moskeland says:

    Dearest Laurel,
    Thank you for your sharing, thank you for your life. This morning I wrote a poem of the happiness the world offers us as we face the day with gratitude for all we are and have. Afterward I read your statement and you became my poem. I have asked the question, “Is it worth it to stay?” and my answer was uniquely mine, and for each of us, I thank you in your life.

    Reply
  2. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Wow — this is so incredibly beautiful. The question of staying has been at the front of my mind for so long and your words are really touching close to home. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    Wow, indeed. Beautiful words and images to ponder. What a blessing and gift you have been given, Laurel. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Reply
  4. Cheryl Rogers
    Cheryl Rogers says:

    Oh, so refreshingly well said! Right on sister! Keep up your wisdom speak for us all! Thank you, you are a gift for us all…. I look forward to hearing more from you over the years………

    Reply

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