The time has finally come for me to cross that stage—at once an accomplishment and a metaphor. You know both of these are true, for you have been a witness to my life up to this point and are here now (in body or spirit) as a witness to this moment and its significance in my life’s call and my great hope for the world.
Today, you will share my joy and you will engage your body through tears and clapping. You will clap because you know that to be able to take this step for the first time at the age of fifty is no small accomplishment or to do so apart from his husband, his children, his framily, his loved ones. You will applaud because you know that I have poured everything I have into this experience—not just the academics and the exegesis but the relationships and the companioning and the learning off the hill and on the streets. You will clap because you know that I have overcome much religious wounding to graduate as an openly queer man from a school of theological education into the vocation of spiritual leadership to which I am called because you know this is my passion meeting the world’s great need. You will applaud because you know how many times you prayed for me, reached out me, held me, and sent me love during these past three years. For engaging your body, hands, and tears with joy in this moment, I am truly thankful.
In this spirit of gratitude, I want to ask you to do something else for me. You see, this institution of theological education was designed for people who look like me—not the glittery, gay part, per se—but the white, male part. It was designed for me to excel and flourish. It has not been easy but the game has been rigged in my favor. And so I ask you…
When a person of color walks across, the stage will you clap just a little bit harder and a lot more deliberately? The structure of theological education was not designed with them in mind and our society has set traps to make sure they never get here. Often these beloveds have had to work doubly—triply—hard to not only survive in the world but to be seen and to find the experience of people like them in its pages. Their presence here demands that the Academy see them and include their theologies and stories in its libraries and classrooms. And they have risen to this high calling and we are all of us better theologians and preachers and world-changers because they had the strength and love to do so.
And when it is a woman of color, would you just go ahead and stand up? More than anyone she has been our ensample, the one who has often single-handedly shouldered this Resistance into which we are called. Her life and strength above all have shown us the goodness of Goddess, of God and we owe more respect and celebration to her than we can possibly express.
When the graduate is a differently abled person, would you applaud with all your might knowing that they have with much greater effort navigated these often unwelcoming spaces in the Academy and the physical environ with such grace. They leave this institution and this Academy transformed by their example of making a way when there was not one, and for modeling exactly how it is to go into a world that has not thought to expect your arrival.
And when it is a transgender or gender-variant person reaching this milestone, would you allow your heart to expand even fuller and hands to clash more vigorously for their achievement in this environment and in this moment. Few books or sacred texts tell their stories and so they have written new ones so generations after them will know of God’s intention and great love for them. Journeying alongside them has changed the theology of all of us and we are more honest, more aware, more enlightened because of them.
And for every person who goes across this stage—we do not know everyone’s story—but clap all the more enthusiastically for each one knowing that not every person may have had the strength of a spouse, of siblings and relatives, of vigorously loyal chosen family, of a vibrant faith community supporting them every step of the way. For the one who has worked and gone to school …who has done all this and raised children or taken care of aging parents … who has been both scholar here and pastor to their faith community … who has burned the midnight oil by night marched in the streets by day … For those who somehow got it all done to be here today … Let us together honor their hard work, as well.
I am grateful you are here.
I recognize these requests are born out of the privilege I imbue. And in this moment I claim that privilege. For as proud as I am to have reached these moments, it is these Dear Ones, my comrades, for whom my heart swells with pride and gratitude and such great joy. Please join me in raising just as much of a fuss—no, more!— for them as I know is in your heart to do for me.