Archive for the ‘The Blue Journal’ Category

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A Queer Storm

13 May, 2018

Sunday morning. It’s raining, which seems appropriate. As a Jungian Archetype, a universal symbol, rain carries triametric meaning: life; death; and the combination of the first two, rebirth. I’m sitting in the church parking lot as the rain washes over the car. I’m debating whether or not I should go in.

Church, the story of Christianity, offers the same three symbolic meanings: life, death, rebirth. Unlike rain, however, church is not a universal symbol. Here I am not refering to how some believe in Christianity and some don’t; rather, I am refering to the policing of faith by the church. The church authorities consider themselves the final say on who does and does not get to participate in the symbolic power of life, death, and rebirth. “‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven'” (Matthew 16: 18, 19).

That policing has impacted minoritised groups throughout history. What started as a community of outsiders embracing widows and orphans, adhering to the law of hospitality, and boldly proclaiming “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) became judgemental and fearful force that murdered and forced converted, that upheld slavery, that encouraged segregation, and became inhospitable to anyone perceived as different and, therefore, defective.

I am one of the minoritised, one of the stigmatised, that is being policed out of the church. I am a queer woman and the United Methodist Church holds that, as a queer woman, I am “incompatible” with Christian faith. Like the rain which is simultaneously life and death, I am both condemed and redeemed. Like the paradox of rebirth, I am both queer and Christian. That scares straight, cisgender Christians because it means they are confronted by the idea that their faith is queer.

A saviour who came not with a sword and rebellion against the Romans, as expected, but with fish and bread and words of loving your enemy. That sounds rather queer to me, as I am sure it did to those who first heard it.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). That is a queer, paradoxical statement.

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, spoke a blessing and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is My body.’ . . . This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26: 26, 28). For a culture steeped in purity laws that included strictures against being near dead bodies and ingesting blood, this is extremely queer.

Am I, and other queer folks, a reminder of the queerness inherent in the Bible, in the Gospel, and in Christianity that modern Christians are afraid to confront? Has Christianity become so mainstreamed and comfortable that anything that makes you itch in that unsettling way, that makes you question where you sit, becomes anathema?

So, I sit outside the church and wonder if I should go in. If I can go in. If I have a responsibility to go in. When I enter the United Methodist Church, or most any church, I am asked to amputate my queerness and leave it outside. Sit quietly, don’t speak of anything controversial, and do your best to be a good girl. Blend in, look normal, and for our sake do not rock the boat.

But by my presence, I rock the boat. The very act of my entering and my visibility becomes a storm that rocks the boat. A storm like that which Elihu describes in Job, a storm that washes away weak and broken notions of God. My presence is the storm that threatens the boat in Jonah, until the disobient servent is cast into the see and swallowed until he repents of his own disobedience, the disobedience of denying God’s word and forgiveness to those he determines unworthy of it.

The rain has stopped and I must decide if I will go into the church. Into a church that is at once mine and not mine. The rain has stopped and I must decide if I will be the storm.

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My Barbara Bush Story

18 April, 2018

As so many famous people are sharing their Barbara Bush stories, I thought I would share mine. Two things you should know:

1. In 1998 Barbara Bush spoke at the Augustana College Boe Forum where she gave a talk on faith and family.

2. The exit to the Augustana cafeteria was into a hallway with two conference rooms in it.

Picture it, fall, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, nineteen hundred and ninety-eight. I was a young, trans girl not yet out but playing with presentation. My hair was long, full, and blonde.

I was eating in the cafeteria. Likely, it was granola because they served a lot of pasta and I didn’t want to gain a sophomore 30. After finishing my cereal and studying I dashed to the drop off window and then quick to the exit. Where I ran into, almost literally, two men in dark suits.

One said, “You can’t go this way.”

I said, “I have class in ten minutes.” My class was with history professor Mike Mullins who was renowned for fast spoken, straight through lectures. For the first two weeks, I didn’t even know what the man looked like (smokin’ hot, by the bye) because I never looked up from my notebook. I did not want to be late for class.

“You can’t go this way,” the dark suited man repeated.

“Oh.” I said. Then I slipped my 135 pound self between the two of them and out the double doors where I ran into, almost literally, former First Lady Barbara Bush. I dead stopped and felt my famous too-pale-for-you flush of embarrassment rise from my chest to hairline. Then I felt very heavy hands on my shoulders and left arm.

I gaped at Barbara and she glanced at me and then, to the security escorts she said, “Let her through.”

The hands released me and I dashed past Barbara Bush and down the stairs faster than Peter Cottontail out of Farm McGregor’s field. It was over an hour before I realised the matronly, conservative woman said “Let /her/ through.”

I still smile with the thrill of proper gendering when I think of this.

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A Queer Pedagogy

7 February, 2018

I worked as a public-school literature teacher for just shy of a decade. I had the privilege of introducing pre-teen and teenage children to good stories well-told and the honour of hearing them tell their own stories. It was never easy, and if I am honest, it was often grueling. Some classes, of course, are more difficult than others. Some were even resistant to what I had to offer. But, every few years, I got a class that was just the right make-up of kids at just the right time with just the right experiences to make the stories live, to make the words sing and the narration dance. But whether it was a difficult class struggling against every lesson or a shining class stretching the words beyond the author’s own limited horizons, I told them all the secret to finding meaning: seek the seed of truth; look for the human experience that tells you what it is like to be alive and together in the world.

Every class found this, at least at first, to be queer. They were right; it is queer. Certainly, in the literal sense of the word it is. To have an instructor insist on multiple answers to the important questions even as the school system administers tests that demanded a single right answer, is strange. The encouragement to empathise with an antagonist’s anguish and to grapple with the darkness lurking in a protagonist’s heart seems perverse to good girls and good boys. Though, as a mentor told me when I was a student, as a storyteller you cannot ever be the good girl.

It’s this last truth that makes the perspective I taught them queer in the outcast sense, in the beaten and bleeding sense, and in the passionate and holy sense. I was asking my students to place themselves on the margins. To see the world through the eyes of the other: the other belief, the other gender, the other morality. To take what they held as most normative and twist it round, viewing the world upside down and inside out. To stop trying to be the good girl who is quiet and accommodating or the good boy who derives his value from his strength and to queer their perspectives, running at oblique angles to the rest of the world. In the final years of my teaching career, this was intentional, but in the early years, when I was struggling to be the good girl who arrived early and stayed late, who attended school concerts and sporting events all while being the virtuous spouse of Proverbs 31, this queered pedagogy only seeped in when I was exhausted and could no longer maintain the tweed-jacket expectations. It happened when I was in my most vulnerable and honest place. I believe that stress and exhaustion reveal our inner character and what I learned was queer perspectives came naturally to me because I was a queer woman.

Perhaps, it’s better to say, what I re-learned. My earliest sense of self was as a queer girl. I was four when Mrs. Peterson informed me I was standing in the wrong line: I was in the girls’ line and I belonged in the boys’ line. I did not have the word queer—with all its danger and strength—at that age, but what I felt was distinctly queer. I knew who I was and who I wasn’t with the same surety that Mrs. Peterson believed she knew which line each child belonged in. That sense of queerness stuck with me throughout my half-day kindergarten class. I played with the girls, I ate with the girls, and I sat with the girls during story time. But at nap time I was told to lay my sleeping mat—a rug woven of earthy greens and reds and purples—alongside the boys and be quiet.

That evening, as my parents drew me a bath and prepared to wash the day’s play off me, I asked them how they knew I was a boy and not a girl. I had been thinking about this and it occurred to me that some girls had short hair and some girls had Smurf t-shirts and some girls looked like boys and they were still girls. My parents recited primer biology; the biology adults still recite authoritatively to children, and to transgender people in a disgusted and vicious tone, and to themselves when they are most desperate for reassurance: boys have penises and girls have vaginas. Even at the age of four that didn’t square with my understanding and now, as an adult woman of transgender experience, it feels queer that some girls are believed when they yell, “I’m not a boy; I’m a girl!” and some girls aren’t.

The attempts to exorcise me of my queerness and to turn me into a good boy fractured me. I hid my true face from people, presenting them with what they wanted to see while I viewed them over my shoulder through a compact’s shattered mirror. It was in this way, I learned the importance of stories. The stories we tell to keep ourselves safe, the stories others tell about us to maintain the illusion, and the early seeds of our stories, the ones we bury deep inside ourselves.

These seeds are the ones I encouraged my students to seek. Kernels buried deep and choked out by all the “good” vegetation planted by professors and politicians and pastors and parents. I taught them to dig their hands into the earth, rip out those straight rows of pedestrian flowers, and look for the bits beneath. Find what is sleeping in the dark, waiting for its chance to stretch deep roots and poke green shoots into the light and burst with vibrant reds and purples.

I worked as a public-school teacher for just shy of ten years and I am transitioning out of that season into something new. I have exhorted students to engage with human stories well-told and I suspect what comes next will be radically different than what has come before. Still, the essence inside me is queer and I know that I will carry my queer pedagogy into whatever I do next.

This post was written for the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2018 – check out others’ posts here

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Exilic Theology

30 December, 2017

A new study has shown that of the 100 largest churches in America 7 have a person of colour as their pastor, 1 has a woman as their pastor, and 0 are LGBTQ-affirming. A faith that once offered hospitality and hope to the disenfranchised and minoritised outsider has become the arm of the white, straight, cisgender man. We have seen this approach to faith before and we have seen how it ends:


Enslaved by monarchical theology in Egypt,

an exodus restored freedom to the oppressed.


Ruled by monarchical theology in a divided kingdom,

an exile restored commitment to the poor, the widow, and the orphan.


Dominated by monarchical theology under Rome, a pacifist Messiah ate and drank with tax collectors and sex workers and brought them salvation.


The church must abandon supremacist theology

or face a new exodus.


The church must abandon patriarchal theology

or face a new exile.


The church must listen to the messianic voices of and among the LGBTQ community

or they will lose the way to salvation.

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An Open Letter to Faith Leaders As We Approach TDoR

15 November, 2017

Dear Friends and Leaders,

 
Monday, 20 November, 2017 is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Every 20th of November services are held to remember and make visible the known transgender people who have died due to anti-transgender violence. Black and brown transgender women make up the majority of these victims. This year continues the trend of seeing more transgender people killed than the previous year, yet these attacks and the Transgender Day of Remembrance receive very little acknowledgement outside of LGBTQ circles. The vast majority of Americans are unaware that on this day, every year, a day of mourning happens to honor the people lost solely because of their gender identity. This year, we mourn over two dozen Americans.

 
In light of this being Transgender Awareness Week and the week ending in the memorial service for those who have been lost, I encourage my pastors, my friends who are faith leaders, and all faith leaders to specifically mention the Transgender Day of Remembrance in their services and in their public prayers. Pray for and act on behalf of the victims of anti-transgender hate crimes. Pray for and act on behalf of victims and survivors, their friends, their families (chosen and biological), and their community.

 
Today, I present myself to you as a voice crying from the wilderness. A wilderness of fear, anguish, and suffering. A wilderness so dark that it cannot even be said to be ignored or rejected, but lost. I am the Samaritan woman begging for your children’s fallen scraps; for even your pets receive the blessing of Saint Francis once a year. I am the bleeding woman reaching out in hope of a miracle; I am extending my hand to you in faith that you will act to stem this bloodshed. I am the woman with the crooked back, bent over and hobbled, having seen nothing but dirt for decades; I stand before you now and hope you will lift our faces that we might see you and be seen by you.

 
I understand that the choice to do this comes with risk. There will be those who will be surprised or confused by what you say. Still more, there will be those who reject and actively resist what you say. I know that you have a position and a responsibility to your congregants and your superiors. You are expected to adhere to the dogma you were empowered under. I appreciate the gravity of what I am asking and I am asking it all the same. For God wants justice to follow down like mighty waters and that is powerful imagery. Mighty waters are overwhelming and not a little chaotic. They rip apart established structures and consume them. Mighty waters are not gentle, they do not only come if you are ready, and they do not ask your permission or acceptance for their flood. Scripture is demanding that justice, true Divine justice, be not concerned with what is political, or expedient, or comfortable.  Scripture demands we be prepared and willing to rip out the old structures and dogma, if it stands between God’s children and God’s justice. Are you willing to unleash those waters and let them wash away the injustices the church has shored and bolstered?

 
According to Matthew, Jesus said, not a sparrow falls from heaven without God seeing it, and how much more are we than sparrows. God sees us. I am asking that you, also, see us. God cares for us. I am asking that you, also, show care for us.

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​An Open Letter to Queer Whites From a Queer White Woman

6 October, 2017

I watched Stephen Colbert interviewing Ta-Nehisi Coates and experienced great shame for my race. The arrogance Mr. Colbert had in asking Mr. Coates for hope and then questioning his response that he, Mr. Coates, could not offer that hope and Mr. Colbert would do better to seek hope from his pastor or friends. I felt shame because there was a time I was like Mr. Colbert (and, if I am honest still have moments where I am) asking my siblings of colour for absolution and hope for the future. I was blind to the truth that the person beneath the boot cannot offer hope to the person benefiting from the boot’s weight. It is not hir responsibility to weave tales of a brighter future; it is my responsibility to work toward a more just future for hir. This was a lesson I had to learn as a young, white teacher in a 98 percent black school district. This is a lesson I learned from honest students who with a mixture of patience and impatience educated me. Here is what my students helped me understand:

White guilt does not do anyone any good. Not white people who look for a simple one-and-done absolution and certainly not people of colour who are left beaten and shamed by the systemic racism of a country stacked against them.

We white people need to stop looking for absolution. There is none. There is nothing we can do that will ever atone for the enslaving, conquering, colonising, erasing, and genocides we as a race have committed and we as modern white people benefit from. And I know the reaction that will get from many of you because it is the same reaction my younger self had: I did not do those things, my ancestors were not here when those things were done, I am also a discriminated against class.

What we need to do is feel those feelings, own those feelings, recognise them as the dissociation from responsibility they are, and toss them in the dust bin. Those feelings serve no purpose other than insulating us from the responsibility we have to dismantle an oppressive system that benefits us at the cost of our siblings of colour.

But, what about intersectionality

Intersectionality is not a theory designed to give entrance into oppression. Intersectionality is a black feminist theory introduced by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to lift the voices of the most marginalised into centrality. Yet, white people, such as myself, have used intersectionality to force our way into the centre of every conversation; if I use intersectionality in that way, I further the oppression of my siblings who are black, brown, native and also poor, disabled, transgender. I am a queer, white woman of transgender experience who suffers a stratum of systemic oppression AND in the midst of that oppression I still benefit from white privilege. According to the report “A Matter of Life and Death” (conducted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition) trans women make up 85 percent of hate crime homicides in the United States and of that 96 percent are people of colour. As a woman of transgender experience, I am a victim and by the “virtue” of being white I experience less oppression than my sister of transgender experience who is also a woman of colour.  As such, I should not fight for my rights but for the rights of my sister. It is my responsibility to stand up for her because no matter how limited my access to space and resources, hers is even more limited.

And here is the truth, by centring my sister’s voice and making the world a more just place for her, I, by extension, make the world a more just place for myself. Justice is not a limited commodity. By ensuring justice for my sister of colour I am making my part of the world a more just place and that will benefit me, as well. As white people, we need to abandon our sense of guilt, which places the White Self at the centre of conversation, and take up a sense of responsibility toward the Sibling Other, which places the experience and voices of people of colour at the centre of our conversations and actions.

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Abide With Me

11 September, 2017

Abide with me, let me know rest
Relieve the sorrow in my breast
Let not my strength or joy recede
Divine-healer, abide with me

Light my way in the darkest hour
No foe’s aggression robs my power
Let fear and doubt and anguish flee
Divine-healer, abide with me