We each have our own “nativity story.”
Mine is that it was a difficult birth, a prolonged labor, my mother turned blue, my father told the doctor she needed oxygen, I was born feet first, my legs were crooked and doctors wanted to put braces on them, but my mother resisted, choosing another therapy: massaging my legs. My Aunt Blanche loved to tell the story of carrying me wrapped in a blanket from the car, having just come from the hospital, and uncovering my head, expecting to find me sound asleep, but instead, found my eyes wide open in wonder, and my head bobbing every which way to see as much as I could see. Dad enjoyed recounting rocking me a very long time while I stubbornly refused to go to sleep. Decades later, after I had chosen to enter the ministry, my mother explained that she had dedicated me to God’s service in the womb, thus my name, “Christopher,” which means “Christ-bearer.”
In truth, we each have multiple nativity stories: family-oriented, as above, but also spiritual, sexual, social, vocational, and so on. I believe it’s important that we first, remember them, and second, tell them. Much of my work has been about coaxing and coaching people in telling their stories, usually as a volunteer. I told my own complex “nativity” or coming out story in my first book, Uncommon Calling.
At our mutual friend Janie Spahr’s suggestion, Mary Ann Woodruff approached me earlier this year to read and possibly write the foreword to her memoir, The Last of the Good Girls: Shedding Convention, Coming Out Whole. I was so much in awe of her book’s literary qualities, I couldn’t imagine writing a foreword that could do it justice, so I kept it short, beginning:
“This engaging, heartfelt memoir quotes Judith Barrington from a 1993 poetry workshop: ‘The poet’s job is to write the truth. And then write the truth below the truth.’ That is precisely what Mary Ann Woodruff has done in often lyrical prose and occasional poetry. She did it first with her life, discovering truth under truth, and now with this remarkable book. A life well-lived deserves a story well-told such as this.”
Woodruff’s prose and poetry rises to the occasion of her remarkable life of self-discovery and growing confidence in herself as daughter, wife, mother, Christian, consultant, writer, feminist, and lover. I am looking forward to meeting her face-to-face when, by coincidence, I speak at her church in Seattle this January.
The day I am writing this I am looking forward to meeting another astounding author at a coffee shop in adjacent Decatur. Yesterday I finished reading Connie Tuttle’s as yet unpublished memoir, A Gracious Heresy, and I was taken by the sometimes non-traditional trajectory of her spirituality and calling as a Christian minister, one that her denomination, seminary, and presbytery found challenging. Her writing too is of a captivating literary quality. She intentionally made me laugh, angry at other times as I realized our shared experience of a church that is still largely unwelcoming of LGBT clergy, and yet ultimately hopeful about our shared intent to make the church a better place for all.
She is the founding pastor of Circle of Grace Community Church (soon to celebrate its 20th anniversary) that my friend Erin Swenson once attended on Sunday evenings. Erin too has written a remarkable memoir of her transition as a transgender Presbyterian minister, If Anybody Asks You Who I Am… I served as Erin’s writing coach, meeting regularly as she finished chapter after chapter to consult, but mostly to encourage. Her book is another literary masterpiece that has not yet found a publisher.
From an Assembly of God perspective, Randy McCain sent me a manuscript of his own memoir growing up in Arkansas, And God Save Judy Garland: A Gay Christian’s Journey. Well written, edited by Peggy Campolo and now recommended by Jay Bakker, it tells his own “nativity” story discovering his sexuality in the evangelical world. At the behest of those who’ve read it, he has successfully raised funding on Kickstarter to publish and publicize this needed addition to LGBT Christian storytelling.
My friend Joe Cobb and his former wife, Leigh Ann Taylor, remind people that “coming out” is not just for individuals in Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through. Taking turns writing their story as a family, the reader better understands what a loving marriage is all about and how spouses and children have their own nativity stories.
R. Z. Halleson reminds us that the nativity story of another can be told by a writer like her who is attentive, compassionate, and detail-oriented in her novel Ambiguous, based on a true story of three airmen in the 50s and 60s coming to terms with sexuality. Years ago, Ruth asked me to advise her on the manuscript, and the book was finally published this year.
My former partner, Mark King, has written his own nativity story about coming out of addiction and coping with HIV in A Place Like This: A Memoir. I encouraged him to write it and served as his first reader, but was surprised nonetheless to have him dedicate the book to me, long after our relationship ended. It’s a very good read, disturbingly honest, touchingly poignant, and often laugh-out-loud funny.
Finally, I am grateful to be included in professor Patrick Cheng’s Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology, an accessible round-up of LGBT theologians, and R. W. Holmen’s carefully researched and well-written story of the LGBT Christian nativity and movement within five mainstream Protestant denominations, soon to be released, Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.
These weeks of Advent need not be just about the nativity of Jesus, but all the nativities of the Spirit his story has inspired, including your own.