Yesterday was the last day of the semester at Hartford Seminary. The class I taught on Tuesdays has been wonderful and challenging. When the dean suggested I teach a class about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning history and theology I thought, “Sure I’ve lived most of the history. How hard can it be?” Famous last words.
As I started to work on the syllabus, I realized that my work for the past seven years has focused almost entirely on renewing “vintage churches.” It is what I have been doing with the congregation where I am the pastor; it is what I do with more than 20 churches around the country; it is what I speak about at conferences; it is the subject of my two most recent books and the theme of the book I am writing now; and it has been the topic of the classes I have taught at four seminaries and now teach at Hartford. As a result, when I began to write the syllabus, I was frozen.
Yes, I have been gay my entire life, and I have been an openly gay pastor for 35 years. I have written five or six books about being gay and Christian. Still, when I thought about what I know that I could teach other pastors and rabbis, it was hard to think of a thing.
I eventually figured it out, and the course ended up being about how the LGBTQ movement changed the attitudes of society in a remarkably short time, and what religion can learn from that to reclaim faith as a priority for the next generation. When the course started in January, I was nervous that I might not have enough material to teach for eight hours every month.
I need not have worried. For one thing, I’m a preacher and have spent my adult life talking about things I KNOW very little about. I also was teaching preachers, and they can fill up most any lag in a class. The most important thing I discovered, though, was that I have lived this story long enough that I know more than my memory can hold. When we finally got started, I realized that I really was an expert in this, not because of what I’d read or researched, but because of the life I have lived.
My guess is that you are an expert in many areas of life. What I discovered is that you have to give yourself permission to value who you are at least as much as what you have read.
Rev. Michael Piazza