Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

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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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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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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

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More Than Just Dust

7 September, 2017

For you are dust and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19

God raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles and inherit a seat of honour. 1 Samuel 2:8

 

Growing up in rural Minnesota in the 1980s our house was heated by a boiler stove. Multiple times each day throughout the winter months and sporadically throughout the warmer months my father or mother would go outside in the cold and scrape the ashes from inside the boiler into a large metal trash can.  I once asked my father why he kept the ashes. After all, the wood had already been burned so it could no longer be used to heat the house. It was trash, so why not throw it out? 

My father said it was true the wood had been burned and the ashes left behind could not be used to heat the house, but it was not true that the ashes were trash. In fact, there was a lot that ashes could still do. In the winter, he would lay ashes on our driveway, which went up a small hill. Covering the driveway in ash helped melt the ice and gave the tires something to grip so the truck would not slide or get stuck at the bottom.  During the spring, the ashes could be used to enrich the soil in the garden and flower beds; it also helped ward off pests that could ruin a crop. In the summer it could be used to de-stink the dogs when they tangled with a skunk. In the fall ash could be combined with water to clean silver. Though it did not look like much, there were still many uses for the ash.

We, also, are made of ash. Everything we are composed of is the ash, or dust, of stars after they have burned their fuel. We may not always seem special, but we are never trash. We each have something profoundly us that we can offer to others. Sometimes we forget that about ourselves and about others. Many cisgender and heterosexual Christians have forgotten this truth in regards to the LGBTQIA community. They write us off as just trash. Recently, a group of Evangelical Christians wrote a multiple point declaration they named The Nashville Statement that put the LGBTQIA community in the ash heap of Christian faith. They decried us as fallen, broken, sin-filled, and dangerous. They have forgotten that they are also the dust of stars and that we are also more than just dust. Each of us, no matter how we may look or how others perceive us, has something unique to offer Community. The young bisexual girl at school is an excellent math tutor. The androgynous presenting person in the office is a fantastic copy editor. The gay man who works at the auto store is the only one you trust to give you honest, solid advice on filters and plugs. The trans woman at Starbucks is gregarious and friendly with customers. Yes, it is true they are not ashes in common moulds, but they are special none the less.

You, my loves, are special none the less.

 

Reflection

In what ways am I more than just?

How do we learn to see others as more than just their background or appearance?

 

Prayer

Divine Light, we draw our bodies from the dust of stars and we will return as dust to them, but we draw our value and worth from you and the unique and precious gifts you have given us. Help us to see our value and respect the value you have instilled in others.

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On Lukewarm Christianity and the Nashville Statement

31 August, 2017

In light of the Nashville Statement I have a scriptural reminder for those clergy and congregation members who have decided to remain neutral:
“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:14-16
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Amos 5:21-24
The good thing that has come out of the Nashville Statement is that I and other LGBTQ people of faith know where the signatories stand in regard to our ability to worship and participate in community. They have pulled the sheets from their faces and made it clear their communities are dangerous, are toxic, to us and we can separate ourselves and our faith from them. It has, also, brought to the fore religious leaders who are unequivocally on the side of the oppressed. It helps us to see where we are welcome and where we can be full and contributing memebers as our authentic selves.

Churches, clergy, and laity who stand silent in the face of announced discrimination and hate are dangerous places for LGBTQ people. It gives us an ungrounded hope that maybe we are welcome while providing enough doubt that we can never act and live as ourselves for fear of condemnation. In their attempt to be everything to everyone, these communities are crushing the spirits of LGBTQ members who are forced to live in a state of doubt and fear. No one can worship and commune when they are living in fear of rejection. As it says: were you hot or cold we would know where we stand with you, but as you are lukewarm, we are left neither fully part not fully barred from community.

If you are clergy, we need you to make clear from the pulpit that we are welcome in your house. We do not expect that every member of the congregation will be in agreement with you, but it makes it clear that if/when conflict comes you are in our corner; that we can rely on you to stand with us and preserve our right to worship. Or, to express the opposite, so we can know that we are not viewed as integrated members and we can seek a place where we are.

If you are laity, we need to know you are accepting of us or not accepting of us. It is to everyone’s benefit that your views are clear. If we have an ally in you, we know that we can be genuine with you. When we are able to be vulnerable with you it opens us to be a support for you when you are feeling weak and vulnerable. It allows us to offer our whole selves in our support of you. Conversely, we need to know if you are not accepting because we will know that our genuineness would hurt both of us.

Or maybe you do not know own where you stand on this. If that is you, I urge you to be honest about that. Ask respectful questions, get to know us as people both as LGBTQ people but also as people of faith and members of a community. Hiding from what you do not understand or are uneasy with will not help you to grow and learn. Seek to understand us; we are willing to meet you on that path and we are open to learning about you as a person of faith, as well.

Do not stand neutral in the face of this deceleration. Use it to make your stance known or to embrace your own doubt and to grow.

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Draw the Circle Wider

9 December, 2016

​I do not like having to be political. I do not like drawing “us” and “them” lines when it should always be a collective us. I want to find common ground and shared hope. I believe that all people can work together for basic human rights regardless of their background. We are made more human by our willingness to listen.

I am heart-sick over the increasingly antagonistic posts I have been seeing friends make. Instead of working together to hold administrations accountable despite differences in politics or opinions, people are digging metaphorical moats to divide themselves. Instead of looking at actual actions taken by those in charge and rationally questioning their choices and motives, people are pointing fingers, calling names, and inflaming the aggressive fever ripping through us. Posts are becoming more polarised and less humane. In denouncing the other’s dehumanising actions more and more of my friends are resorting to stripping the other of humanity. Words like “libtards,” “croney-conservatives,” “sheeple,” and “brown shirts” are common place on my news feed. These words divide us from the humanity of those who have disagreed with us. These words divorce us from the reality that we are speaking about real people, with real struggles, and real fears. These words do not invite discussion or compassion or healing.

Now I am seeing people whose politics were in general alignment and whose interests paralleled one another flinging accusations at one another and blaming allies for what went wrong. Accusations of being too “politically correct” or too “moderate” or too “divisive.” People who should be comforting each other are instead othering their neighbours and blaming them for what has been lost. Our culture is becoming so fractured that we cannot even see the humanity in the very people we say we are trying to help. We carve up our country into camps of “rational” and “irrational,” “white collar” and “blue collar,” “urban” and “rural,” “queer” and “normative;” then we label those camps “righteous” or “self-serving,” “all progressive” or “all regressive,” “wise” or “foolish,” “heroic” or “villainous.” We drive equality from our nation because we no longer see all people as deserving respect and dignity.

I am put in mind of the Gospel of Matthew. The Jesus we see in Matthew is different than the Jesus in Luke and Mark and radically different than the Jesus in John. This Jesus is angry and draws lines. He divides people into two camps: those worthy of heaven and those not worthy of it. He says to the crowds, if you do this you are not worth to enter my father’s house but if you do that you are. Then, a while later, he says to those who were deemed worthy, if you do this then you shall be cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then he turns to those who remain saying, if you do this you are fit only to the pit and the never dying flames. Soon he is even drawing divisions in his disciples and then he is saying even to those left they have failed him by falling asleep while praying. And then he is alone but, in the end, even he is unworthy of God’s kingdom and love “for it is written ‘cursed is he who hangs on a tree'” and he cries out to God asking why he has been forsaken. He dies and in the story Matthew’s pen tells what happens is love. Love that reaches out past the tree and the forsaking to extend to the outcast, to extend to Jesus, but the catch of that love is it must then be extended to everyone else, it must be extended to everyone that Jesus’s lines excluded. There is no middle ground. All are worthy of respect and dignity or none are worthy.

I do not know how our nation can pull itself back together or even if it can, but I can offer a small example from my life. It is not an example of success nor is it an example with a happy ending, but it is an example of making the attempt:

My brother and I had a falling out several years ago and we are on very different paths politically and socially. He does not read what I post and I do not read what he posts. He no longer shares his political opinions with me and I do not share mine with him. But, in spite of all that is between us, I still hold his humanity at the fore. I still send him texts asking how he is, expressing sympathy when something bad happens, or just saying I love him. Sometimes he responds and sometimes he does not, but I do not let that interfer with seeing him as a person with struggles and concerns. If I allow my dislike of his politics to prevent me from recognising his heart and humanness than there will never be common ground between us and there will never be a potential for reconciliation between us.

I cannot bank on a person’s politics because politics are fleeting and change when convenient. I cannot trust in their understanding because their ability to offer understanding is so dependent on their experiences. I can only look for the common threads. I can only weave love with these threads and offer a garment of peace. If I polarise my life on the political alone, I create new enemies everyday. If I seek to build relationships on shared humanity, I open myself to potential allies and friends. Accusations and hate cannot bind our wounds, but maybe love and respect and basic dignity can.

As the song says, Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. Let this be our song; no one stands alone (Gordon Light & Mark Miller).

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A Call to Divine-Love

18 April, 2015

In her new book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans writes of baptism, The Christian’s descent into the water represents a surrender, a death, to the old way of living. Emergence represents a resurrection, a starting over again. Her words made me pause and I wondered what it is we die to and what we are resurrected into. These are difficult questions and I know that many people far smarter that I am, including Ms. Evans, have struggled to answer these questions. As a teacher, however, I am wired to clarify my thoughts and to share them with others. From my experiences with love and faith and reflection on when I have felt closest to the Divine, I find myself wondering if what we die to is our hindrances and what we are born into is the practice of Divine-Love.

Learning to accept God’s love is a process of little deaths. It is allowing anything that hinders us from having a relationship with God, anything that limits or dampens our experience of Divine-Love, to fall away. There are some things that we can mutually agree are hindrances to our experience of Divine-Love, such as the harbouring of hate and me-centred behaviours, but more often, the things that separate us from Divine-Love are specific to us and our frailties. What separates me from God may not be what separates my sister from God. I struggle to see God’s love when I watch shows with bitter, cynical heroines; they are a stumbling block for me because they encourage a very pessimistic view of the world, but for my sister they may only be entertainment because such shows do not affect how she sees others. For my sister it may be alcohol or spending, violent images or popular music, excessive intellectualism or shallow relationships. What matters isn’t an agreed upon list of what interferes with a God-Centred life but how we respond to our hindrances and to each other. We are called to limit or eliminate things that will hurt us and we are called to encourage our sisters in their walk. What we are not called to do is determine for them what their stumbling blocks are nor are we to make our frailties their frailties by extension. If I struggle with alcohol, it would be kindness from my sister to not drink around me, but it would be cruelty on my part to say my sister should never drink. Conversely, if my sister struggles with loving herself unconditionally she should not resolve her struggle by defining who I am or can be, but I should respond to her with compassion and encourage to see herself and others as God does. We cannot judge what is in the hearts of others, we can only address what dampens our own heart’s receptivity to love. This is why the attempt by Christians to categorise acceptable and unacceptable sins or to limit church membership to certain individuals defies the very nature of Divine-Love.

If we are constantly shedding our hindrances, our dead behaviours and attitudes, we must replace these things with something better. We must allow ourselves to be resurrected into the compassion that sought us out, the non-judgemental love given to us without expectation. Divine-Love reaches out for us regardless of our flaws and imperfections. God does not say “I will love you if… .” This is a very difficult concept for us to grasp because human-love, no matter how pure, is always conditional. There are many things that our love survives but there are limits. Perhaps that love hits its limit when our significant other cheats on us, when the child we sacrificed for makes choices we can’t agree with, when our parent changes, or when we grow apart from our friends. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we have limits and those limits are there because we love through reciprocity; both sides give and both sides get. Divine-Love, however, is different. Divine-Love is given without the need for reciprocity. This is not the love of a hopeless lover, because even she hopes the person she loves will love her back. The closest we can come to understanding it is found in compassion for those who have hurt us. It is radical mercy. Desmond Tutu demonstrated such love when he urged Nelson Mandela to show mercy toward those who benefited from and perpetuated apartheid. Tutu called it reconciling forgiveness. Reconciling love is offered without regard to what will be returned. This is the love that we are resurrected into and because we have received it and been shaped by it, we are able to give it to others. Unfortunately, we are not perfect vessels for Divine-Love; we are mentally and physically incapable of its constant expression. Thankfully, we have not been called to be. Instead, we are called to move toward it. Having been born into reconciling love we are beholden to move ever deeper into it. As we grow and mature, we should express this love a little more consistently and a little more purely. A few might progress great distances, but all of us will gain ground. Through practice and patience (with ourselves more than anyone else) our capacity for compassion will grow; we will each be able to hold a little more and in response give a little more to everyone else.