Archive for the ‘The Blue Journal’ Category

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Creation

15 July, 2018

The waters of the cosmos
Were still and dark
Though not empty
Because even the void
Contains potential

This was my soul
Suspended
In the primordial dark
Undiferentiated

A breath
A whisper
Your voice,
“Let there be

“Warmth”

And there were
Atoms vibrating
Creating heat and light
Matter
Expanding outward at
Three hundred million
Meters per second
Seperating space
Tearing firmament
From sky
And in the gap
My spirit
Resting in Yours

And Your voice,
“Let there be

“Connection”

And there were
Polypeptides and
Carbohydrates and
Covalent molecules
Knit together to form
Double helixes
To bind my
Disparate parts
Into a beating heart
My pulse

And Your voice,
“Let there be

“Mindfulness”

And there were
Patterns
Of neurons
Branching and crackling
With electric impulses
Carrying sensations
And perceptions
And self
And doubt
And shame

And Your voice,
“Let there be,”

“Love”

And You spoke my name
And You declared me good

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(Facing God) פְּנוּאֵל

12 July, 2018

How vivid is the memory
Of being pinned between
The arrogance of man and
The scored, arid earth
From which You drew him?

Does your being still ache
From the slow radiating
Of ancient desert heat
Where his inflamed skin
Pressed down on Yours?

Now, do You weep
When you remember him
Whom you had grown beside
Tearing from your parched lips
What you could have offered?

Did You speak a blessing
For that fossiled ass’s bone
Which aided your liberation
As ruddy gleams of dawn
Set blaze to the horizon?

Did you bestow on him
With greater reluctance
That new song of name
You would have whispered
Into his cradled head?

Now, do You weep
As you see him pin others
To Your once creative earth
And wrench what he desires
From their broken, gnarled hands?

Do You see and do You wonder
If You had held that one blessing
For a day, a month, or forty years,
If the generations who followed
Would have learned to touch

with Love?

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No’me and the Great Fire

24 June, 2018
No’me and the Great Fire
 
 
They were always deemed a little off. Just a tad, not enough to really make people wonder, but they knew something wasn’t quite right with them. As they grew, they began experimenting. Making crowns from nettles, using masticated berries to dye their hair a variety of startling shades, and asking to be referred to with they pronouns instead of the reasonable he or she. But things escalated when they moved out on their own. To start, they didn’t build the traditional wooden fence around their home. How they expected to keep the dangers of the unknown from their home was beyond comprehension for the folks of the village. Then they began telling the villagers they wanted to be called No’me. That, of course, was blasphemy. The Pursuit of the Self was faith’s founding principle. Followed by: guard your understanding and hedge your hearth and home. No me was a denial of the Great Self. All this is to say, when No’me began tamping out a foundation and laying stones around their house, well, no one was surprised. Concerned, mainly for how this would impact the village and how the already rare trader or collector passing through would shun it, but not surprised.
 
The villagers grew even more concerned when No’me began saying the Great Self had spoken to them. Well, they referred to Him as the Heart of the We, but it was clear enough to the Elders that No’me was talking about the Great Self. It was not uncommon for the Great Self to speak to the Elders with guiding rules to maintain the purity of selfhood, a sort of communal individuality where everyone could seek the self within the established order. It was unheard of that the Great Self would speak to an outcast like No’me. They were not quite right and what is not quite right cannot be a divine instrument.
 
The things No’me spoke of were disconcerting, to put it politely. They spoke of a great fire that was coming. It would burn away the walls and leave only the unguarded heart. The fire would cut across the length of the village and would torch every home. No’me insisted everyone could be safe from the danger if they were together. Ridiculous, said the Elders. If we were really meant to be together, the Great Self would not have instructed us to build our fences. That made sense to the villagers. Talk of a fire from a no-self with queer behaviours did not make sense.
 
Still, No’me worked. Laying down paving stones and surrounding their house with a ring of open space instead of a well-tended fence. No’me was an odd neighbour. They visited each of the houses learning people’s names and talking about how the village was strongest when it worked together. No’me was an odd neighbour. They worked from sunup to sundown in plain view of everyone, waving, and engaging in unnecessary conversation. No’me was an odd neighbour.
 
Months passed like this until, by midsummer, No’me had constructed a circular patio around their house with a radius of twenty-five yards. There were words inscribed on the pavers, but no one ever got close enough to No’me’s eccentric design to read them. After the last stone had been set, No’me came to the village centre and stood in front of the great fenced-in tree and called to anyone who would listen: It will happen tonight; please, visit the patio and stand with me. The young laughed at them and the adults gave the tree a wide berth. One of the Elders approached No’me and denounced them. No’me insisted the Heart of the We was open and inviting all to a place of strength and safety. The Elders declared them possessed and a threat to the faith.
 
That evening dark clouds rolled across the sky. Though ominous, the clouds did not bring rain. Instead gashes of lightning rent the horizon and winds uprooted trees and battered fences. In the deepest dark a jagged bolt struck the fenced-in tree and its branches began to smolder. Behind high picket fences, the villagers could not see the smoke, but No’me did and, with quiet diligence, set out lanterns along their patio so others could find the way.
 
The smoldering and the smoke thickened and another crashing bolt set flame to the leaves. The wind stoked the small fire and scattered burning twigs down upon the fence. Within moments the centre and its tree were a bonfire spitting embers across the sky. These embers leaped and danced, alighting upon rooves and picket fences and sunbaked lawns. Villagers roused from their stupor, throwing pails of water across wood panels in hopes of dousing the flames or soaking the boards enough to prevent it from spreading. Futile actions. The great fire was upon them.
 
As the smoke weighed and choked and the flames leapt from thatching to plank to lawn, a great wailing could be heard from the houses of the Elders. Many were lost, but some remembered No’me and their promise of safety. Some sought out the lantern light spread across the stone patio and could be seen, by flickering flame and flashing lightning, making the trek across the village toward its outskirts and No’me’s refuge.
 
The villagers approached, at first, as single individuals looking for a way, any way, out of the inferno. Coughing out burning lungfuls of acrid smoke, they pulled themselves across the pavers. They huddled together in small groups, holding whoever was nearest, and wept. A young woman pulled herself from a group of five who lay panting on the stones. She stood by No’me and took their calloused hand in hers. Together they called to the other villagers.
 
As the blaze grew, lighting the sky with a false dawn, more of the exhausted and frightened villagers joined them on the edge of the patio. Together, they cleared away grass and leaves, raking down to bare dirt and expanding the circle. Some held tight to each others’ hands and set out in small parties to search for those who had not made it to safety. By the time the morning light cut through the haze of smoke and the wind scattered the dying embers, the entire village had burned to the ground. Many were safe on No’me’s patio but many more had perished. Yet, whether lost or huddling together in traumatized groups, each villager’s name could be found beneath the ash, inscribed in the stone pavers.
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Thoughts on Capital Pride Parade and Corporate Sponsorship

10 June, 2018

Disclosure: Over the last decade, I have interacted with the parade on three levels: viewer, protestor, and participant. As protestor, I worked with No Justice, No Pride as we prepared for the demonstration last year. As participant I marched with the Smithsonian GLOBE group this year. I recognise both the damage done to our parade by corporate sponsors and the value of seeing ourselves as participants and watchers.

My thoughts: LGBTQ+ groups and LGBTQ+ non-profits should be given primacy of placement at the head of the parade, it is OUR parade afterall. Then allyship groups should receive secondary placement. Placed, last in line, corporations demonstrating allyship and corporate sponsors demonstrating a support position; corporate sponsors should demonstrate their allyship by letting LGBTQ+ groups march first. Finally, groups that want to be corporate sponsors but who prey on the LGBTQ+ community, prey on other marginalised communities, or have a low HRC score should not be permitted to march or sponsor. Those on the Pride committee that voted to include them sold us out and should be removed from the committee.

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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