Monday, February 27, 2012

Pride, Rainbows, and Lenten Paraments

So this morning I walked into the primary worship space of my seminary. It was decked out in the colors of Gay Pride in a way I have rarely seen, and I have personally decked out several worship spaces for Pride Eucharist, the problem is that it was decked out this way for a Lenten Worship. I was hurt, I was angry, I wanted to cry. I have talked to others and realized that I was not alone in this reaction.

Worship is all about expressing the meaning of symbols. On the first Sunday of Lent this year, one of the symbols presented to us is the Rainbow, the sign of the First Covenant of God with all the people of the earth. It is the symbol that no adversity we face is meant to annihilate and destroy us and that God will never seek so to do. It is the symbol that outside of any law code, level of sinfulness or holiness, or decree of judgment there is God’s overwhelming Love, Mercy, and Peace to all.

It is a good symbol to have as the church enters Lent. It reminds everyone that the reason of the present adversity and penitence is so that we can become more fully aware of God’s love. It is the spring gushing from a rock that will follow us throughout our Lenten dessert journey until we reach the festival Oasis of Easter.

So while it is a symbol that frames lent it is not a Lenten symbol. It is not a symbol of penitence. It is not plain, austere, and hesitant it is beautiful, full, and loud. For many people it might be only slightly jarring to find it presented in the midst of a Lenten service and with the context of the Genesis’ reading and proper explanation of why it is there and what our penitence means… it could work.

Except for me. For me and for most of the LGBT community, the Rainbow is the universal symbol of inclusion, love, and acceptance. It is the same meaning as embodied in the story of Genesis but for us the meaning is exponential. We who have truly been locked up for years in the arks of our closets struggling against the storms of a world that does not tolerate us, of family that rejects us, of isolation and fear; we who have spent years scared to have any association with a Rainbow in fear it might “out us”; we who have to struggle and overcome a world telling us we are not made beautifully. When the dove finally brings us that branch, when we have finally found that dry land, when we have finally seen the rainbow and know that we are beautiful individuals that are loved. There is nothing like that symbol. It is one of the primary contexts in which I understand Easter.

Yes, I do roll my eyes at the LGBT community’s over use of Rainbows. But deep down it is one of those deep visceral symbols, a symbol of new life, of light, of truth. It is like the word A--e-uia, often overused but a powerful symbol that we hold back from use in Lent for the sake of being able to fully enter it later.

I do not know if I am going to be able to worship in that space for the time being. The symbols are so jarring that I cannot really enter into any space but emotional fervor. The lack of understanding around the meaning of the symbol of the Rainbow and how inappropriate it is for Lent in a community that includes LBGT members leaves me in a space I cannot even really define.


  1. You assert that the rainbow in church automatically stands for Gay Pride. I challenge you to consider that the rainbow has been an important sign and symbol for people for thousands of years before the LGBT community adopted it a mere 40 years ago. The symbol existed before the LGBT community and it will exist after it because the community didn't create the symbol--it adopted it.

    I am sorry that the symbol jars you so much, and I can understand why. But, in all fairness, it is not "your symbol" to control as solely your own. The rainbow, while not a good symbol for the entirety of Lent (and I last I heard, it may not be up for the whole season), is entirely appropriate for the first Sunday.

  2. Actually no one created the symbol it is a refraction of light through crystal structures that humans have interpreted in many ways through history.

    I would suggest that the prevailing cultural interpretation of the Rainbow is a symbol of Gay Pride and is generally used by institutions and organizations to mean such. When a church uses the rainbow in any context it needs to be aware that individuals, especially dechurched, unchurched, and members of the LGBT community, will immediately make that association. Thus regardless of the interpretation the church is hoping to express by use of the rainbow the church leaders must reflect on the fact that this will be an interpretation of the symbol within whatever context they are using it.

    My understanding is that the area in question is a common worship space of the Trinity Lutheran Seminary community, of which I am a part. To that end I am confused by statements of "our symbol" versus "your symbol". Every liturgical symbol we use, the cross, the creed, the bread, the wine, and now the rainbow is interpreted both individually and collectively. To that end the use of symbol is moderated by church tradition as well as community understanding.

    In such a way the only time I can think of to say "not 'your symbol'" would be a statement of saying that my interpretation of the symbol is one that is not congruent within the context of the community. It is actually the unsaid statement that the use of the Rainbow as a celebration of new life, radical love, diversity, and acceptance by the LGBT community was not an interpretation that was going to be allowed within the context of this worship space that is at the root of the problem.

    1. It is true that on the first Sunday in Lent once every three years the symbol of the Rainbow is one of the images put forward from the Old Testament Lesson. This is contrasted with the Expulsion from the Garden in Year A and the commandment to remember that "A wandering Arameann was my Ancestor" in Year C. I would argue that outside of Lent 1 Year B Old Testament reading (an invention of the last fifty years) there is no precedent for the use of the Rainbow as a symbol for the first Sunday of Lent. This is in contrast to the forty days in the boat, the expulsion from Eden, and the forty years in the dessert wandering, which form a series of congruent symbols throughout all three lectionary text of a time of trial and testing by God and is congruent with the historical and traditional interpretations of Lent as a liturgical season.

      But as I pointed out in my initial post, I do find a viable space for the use of the Rainbow symbol within the first week of lent during Year B when that symbol is presented to us in the Old Testament text. My point, however, is that use is eclectic and causes a conflict of symbols. Now it is very possible to beautifully foil symbols that conflict with each other in order to create meaning. But such acts take preparation, education, and care to be done well. There was no preparation, education, or care for the community in this case so that such use could be implemented. If an announcement had been made on Ash Wednesday to expect some experimental use of symbol during Lent, if an explanatory email had been sent out to the community, or if an explanatory sign had been placed outside the chapel then things could have progressed more smoothly. With no such buffer I, and I believe others, were forced to take the two symbols involved, the Rainbow and Lent, at face value, a symbol of celebration, new life, diversity for the LGBT community being used to represent the time of fasting and reflection on our separation from God.

      In the end I am actually not that upset this all occurred. Experimentation with symbols is exactly what we need to be doing and encouraging. The problem is that when we experiment things can sometimes blow up (I used to be a chemist I know this to be a fact). This blew up and myself and a few others were at the epicenter of the blast and got really rather hurt. BUT SOMETHING OCCURRED IN THAT WORSHIP SPACE THAT OVERWHELMINGLY TOUCHED ME AND TRANSFORMED ME. I want us to keep doing just that! Let us figure out some safety valves. Lets encourage a community that says "I am going to do things in worship that are stupid and will need to be changed upon reflection". (I will gladly tell stories of really really bad liturgical ideas I have done) Let us figure out how to talk to each other so that when we are hurt or confused or healed or enlightened or a bit of all we can know it and learn from it and become liturgist that can actually communicate something.

  3. You totally forgot to include the significance of the DOUBLE RAINBOW.

    1. Oh most angry and most gentlemanly of individuals if it has been a double rainbow it would have been a different gambit entirely.