- by Brett Stadtlander -
I doubt most people can pinpoint the moment when they started living, but I certainly can. Before that day, my life wasn’t terrible, but it was laced with secrets, shame, confusion, and a fear of being “found out.” There was a great chasm between who I knew myself to be and how I lived in the world. It was a chasm I couldn’t understand, let alone explain. But on September 9, something shifted in my world just enough that I was able to decide that my “life” of fear was no longer serving me or my community.
Among many other things, my decision to live meant I could no longer hide from myself or those around me. You see, a week prior to that day, I realized I had been expending most of my energy on hiding from myself. I realized I was living a very disjointed life as Bri, and part of that separation was because, in reality, I was Brett. With this revelation, I had finally placed my finger on the disconnect between me and the rest of the world; but that left me at a crossroads:
I could either move forward as Brett, or I could not move forward.
I, Brett, am still here.
My decision to walk on into life was one I had to make on my own; no one else could make it for me. But I also couldn’t have done it alone. I couldn’t have done it without my pastors, professors, friends, and trust that my family would still love me. I couldn’t have made this decision if I wasn’t certain I would be able to have a Brett-shaped space in the world, in my church, and in my family. My ability to truly be alive and authentic was not and is not completely independent of my ability to live within a safe community.
This is a piece of my story; it may or may not be a part of yours, but I know that I am not alone in this journey.
The truth is, there are people in our pews and choirs, people standing right outside our doors, and people standing as far away from our doors as possible who have not yet decided to live.
For some of them, this means they haven’t decided if they will wake up tomorrow. For others, it means they haven’t decided if they’re ready to share who they truly are—their gender identity, living openly as an ally, or even living openly as a Christian. Maybe it means admitting addiction, weaknesses, strengths, or a need for others. I don’t know what folks are holding back, but I know there are plenty of people who are trying to decide if this is the right time and place to step forward into a new, honest, whole, and authentic life.
We, as members of this faith community, have to ask ourselves these questions: Are we going to be a safe space for these people?
Are we going to encourage them to let go of their fear because we will embrace them with love? Ultimately, are we going to be our true selves so we may welcome others as they truly are, too?
I see pockets of authenticity and safety bubbling all over the United Methodist Church. My prayer is that one day the entire UMC will be a place with space for everyone at Christ’s table. To those of you who made space for me, thank you; and to those of you who are not yet sure if authentic living is the life for you, know that, if you so choose, I—and many others—will make sure there is a you-shaped space in our community. You are welcome here.
. . .
Brett Stadtlander currently attends Simpson College in Indianola, IA, where he is earning a major in religion and a minor in gender studies. He is the praise band leader for the campus, and an intern at Trinity UMC in Des Moines. Following his December graduation, he plans to continue through the United Methodist candidacy process and pursue a Masters in Divinity. Outside of theology, Brett has a passion for music, spoken word, and Iowa State athletics.