Jacq's testimony

Jacq Oesterblad |

My answer is embarrassingly earnest: I cling to the Church because I find God here. I recite the creed, and I really mean it.

Moses was a strange leader for the freed Israelites.

Not only for the reasons we’re all familiar with—the murder, the possible speech impediment—but because of the differences in experience between him and the people he was called to lead: they grew up in slavery and oppression, and he was raised in a palace.

It puts a lot of Exodus in a different light.

God speaks in thunder and lightning, trumpet blasts and smoke, and the Israelites beg for an intermediary. Moses disappears up the mountain for forty days, and they assume they’ve been abandoned and need a new, more tangible God. And when Moses leads them out into the desert without food and water, they revolt. Because the Israelites, unlike Moses, know what it is to starve.

We’re tempted to blame them, to call it faithlessness or fear. But I think it’s a traumatized people putting their feet down, demanding better, wrestling with God. And their insistence bears fruit. They get manna. They get water from the rock.

If “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” means anything, it is this.

When we think that justice can wait, that God has everything handled without us, we are wrong. And when we think we cannot survive another injustice, that God has abandoned us, we are also wrong. The work of justice is eternal, and it is God’s. But it is also urgent and ours.

Movements often operate in the same way. There are leaders, known for their skill in discerning and directing big-picture outcomes, who trust in tomorrow. They see the Promised Land, but they also see the sacrifices it demands. And then there are the people who are uninterested in the strategic explanations for why their basic needs weren’t met yesterday and can’t be met today. There are people who refuse to be sacrificed.

I have to believe that both—patience in God’s time and impatience for justice—can coexist.

Because otherwise, what am I doing as a queer person in the Catholic Church?

My answer is embarrassingly earnest: I cling to the Church because I find God here. I recite the creed, and I really mean it. I say “Amen” before the Body of Christ, and I really mean it. My priest says, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and I really hope it’s true.

And yet there are queer seminarians and novices and teachers and musicians and parish administrators being chased out of their vocations today. There are queer kids absorbing cruelty in Jesus’s name from their Catholic family members and teachers and priests today. There are queer Catholics being denied communion, confession, marriage, and last rites today, who won’t be allowed to baptize their children today, who can’t set foot in a church without crying today.

Those things are not of God. I do not find God in them.

I find that people expect me to be optimistic about the movement for queer inclusion in the Church. Queer Catholics are asked to excuse certain failures because the Church is somehow “getting better” in the midst of it. But we are not bit characters in the narrative of the life of the Church. Our pain is not ordained as an occasion for the Church to learn and grow and change. The God who numbers the hairs on each of our heads did not create us only to be someone else’s teachable moment.

The Church may think in centuries, and God may be beyond time, but humans, if we’re lucky, live our lives on a scale of 80 years—and we’re held accountable for enacting justice on that scale.

So I’m leaving the long arc of history with its distant time horizons and balance of interests to God. I am small, and I know one small thing: To paraphrase Laura Jean Truman, cutting off the hand that hasn’t caused you to sin just leaves you one less hand with which to love your neighbor. And I have loving to do.

The Church is wrong about us. I don’t know when or if it will stop being wrong about us. I am not the person with a vision in this situation; I am the person heckling Moses, asking whether we’re going to starve out here.

When I ask, God doesn’t bring me out of the desert.

He brings me manna.