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Dancing and Dismantling

According to Webster, a marginalized community is a “group that is relegated to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group.” That’s a good definition, but what Webster doesn’t say is how much fun marginalized people can have when they get together to celebrate and remember!

I was reminded of this all weekend as past and present BMC folks convened in Oak Park, Illinois, for a weekend of celebration of the 40th anniversary of BMC. There is something sacred about being part of a community that understands struggle and also triumph; alienation and deep belonging; restriction yet glorious freedom. The laughter and kind affection that characterized the weekend was a reflection of the resiliency, depth and holy defiance of this eclectic group of scarred yet beautiful people. I felt privileged to be a part of this history and gathering.

In their wisdom, the planning committee (under the able direction of Jim Sauder), elected to forego the usual workshops, plenary sessions and discussions that feel important but also inspire weariness. Instead, they filled the hours with storytelling, sharing, worship, films, song, a little bit of history, a lot of laughter, and amazing food. It was exactly what was needed.

For a community where worship, a very overt expression of religion, has been fought with danger, I was surprised that nearly everyone gave up extra hours of sleep for worship on Sunday morning. We were not disappointed. Led by board member Brenda Dyck, the worship committee offered a beautiful service that captured both the struggle and persistence of our community and culminated with the celebration of a true communion feast. Regina Shands Stoltzfus called us to a deeper vision and purpose in her sermon, “Listening to Our Ancestors, Talking with Our Children."

In the early 90’s, BMC made a marked change in its self-understanding when it embraced the concept of Dancing at the Wall. It was a heady proclamation for a community that was often scorned and derided. But it deftly took us out of our shame and moved us to celebrate the goodness of our identities and relationships. It reflected a strength and joy that has continued to this day as we dance while we also actively work with our allies to dismantle the wall. It is tiring and thankless work much of the time. But with every person who comes out, every family who opens their arms, every congregation that unlocks the doors, and every community that steps forward, this movement continues to grow, this dance gets bigger and more lively, cracks appear everywhere along the walls, and whole big chunks start to crumble.

I left the weekend with my heart full of gratitude, appreciation and affection. While considerable work remains until every queer person of every race, gender, ethnicity, ability and class, feels valued, safe and celebrated, I also know that we are making genuine progress. We all just have to keep putting on our dancing shoes and rock like we mean it!

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