If you don’t have anything nice to say 

Best not say anything at all. 

Some old idioms do have meaning and wisdom – don’t they?

And hey, I’m all about public discourse, enriching conversations, and working to find spaces for disagreement. However, when it comes to a person’s individual life, I have yet to figure out why it has become culturally “okay” to offer unsolicited commentaries.

I won’t dance around the elephant in the room – I am speaking specifically to my experience as a lesbian. I came out several years ago and even today continue to encounter pushback in the form of texts, Facebook messages, and the like from individuals who are affronted by my “choice” to be gay.

The most recent message just came a few weeks ago; a scathing, loaded message that, quite literally, was “a message from God” from the person who wrote it. Included in this long note was comments about the surprise and shock that came with realizing that I was gay, specifically that I was touting myself as both gay and Christian.

This person wrote, “I was once again surprised and devastated to see on one of your recent posts that you still consider yourself to be a Christian even though you’ve chosen a lifestyle of homosexuality. That is not possible, Heather. Please believe me that it is not my desire to preach to you: my utmost desire is to obey God in reaching out to you in love and truth, and I do so because I care for you as a person.”

Mhmmmm.

You can imagine I had lots of thoughts about this. One, I didn’t choose this identity. What I did choose to be was a Christian. Also, homosexuality is not a lifestyle. IT IS NOT OKAY TO SAY THIS. A lifestyle is how a person chooses to live (i.e. “a lavish lifestyle” would imply lots of vacations and luxury travel). It is problematic to assume that an LGBTQ+ person has a specific kind of lifestyle. LGBTQ+ people are not robots and certainly do not live in one particular kind of way.

And lastly, it is probably best not to make presumptions about my relationship with God OR how God sees me. Nobody can say this definitively. We are humans. I am tired of communities or individuals thinking that they have their market share on who or what God stands for. The entire premise of faith is that of mystery. Faith is expounding on certainty; it is finding solace in the inexplicable. Faith is trusting something bigger than yourself. Faith is vested in hope, love, and humanity. Yet, so many of these kinds of messages reek of self-righteousness, doctrine, and a prescribed kind of religion.

I wanted to share some other comments, words, questions, and conversations I have had to have in the last few years since coming out. Many of these have been so uncomfortable. And so, I write this with the hopes that if you do know someone struggling with their identity or someone who has already come out, please please – don’t ask them these questions. I’ve listed them below for reference.

Whatever you think about LGBTQ+ people, understand that your opinion does not carry more weight than the right for that person to exist. Their story is just as important as yours. It is tempting and often the norm to feel as though you MUST share what you think about a person’s life experience. Here’s the thing: you don’t.

All you need to do is listen. Hold space. Make no assumptions. Be curious (but respectful). Be open. 

_______________

“Why can’t you change?”

This question assumes that a person a) should change or b) hasn’t already asked this question. I prayed at least a hundred times for God to change my identity. I wanted it so badly. I even tried to be straight. It doesn’t work. At one point, I even considered trying conversion/reparative therapy. The “therapy” works on a premise that having a non-conforming gender identity or same-sex attraction is a mental disorder. Conversion therapies are largely discredited by governing associations the psychological and psychiatric realm. Countless studies show that the therapy is ineffective and harmful.

But to the point – how would you feel if a core piece of your identity existed and someone asked why you couldn’t change that? Could you help that you were born with a particular skin color? Could you help what nationality you have?

It is offensive to postulate that a person must change to be “better” or accepted.

“Have you tried to pray or talk to God about this?”

See above. Yes. A million times.

LGBTQ+ individuals who also hold a faith tradition have likely explored this within a faith lens. It’s no wonder that many LGBTQ+ individuals leave or shift away from the church as an institution – if they are not welcome there, why would they go?

And after all, how do we know God hasn’t already created us as the people we are meant to be?

“But, Heather, it’s not possible to be both Christian and Gay.”

If you believe this, then fine. That’s your prerogative. However, your experience and understanding of faith and Christianity is bigger than you. Leave room for other ideas. Leave room for experiences you can’t necessarily understand. Christianity has not and could not look the same across the world. I am telling you – Christians in Rwanda do not look like Christians in the United States.

It would be important to then ask (to yourself), well, why do I believe this to be true? Why couldn’t a person have a different sexual identity and also be Christian?

Perhaps this will conjure up the six bible verses (known as the clobber passages) that mention this.

Is it possible the text was written for a different context? Is it possible that the writer could have been speaking to something else? It is possible that the text does not hold up today? I am not suggesting the answer to these questions, rather, these are the kinds of exploration a person who would make a statement about someone else’ faith should be asking themselves.

“You have so easily fallen into this lifestyle…carefully consider the choices you are making.”

To say that a person’s exploration and understanding of their sexual identity has been easy is ludicrous. More than anything, it’s also dangerous. According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are 5 times more likely to consider suicide than heterosexual youth. That’s a big number. And, we’re talking about lives. We have to be more delicate than assuming the road for an LGBTQ+ person has been “easy.” It is anything but that. It breaks my heart to think about the isolation, anxiety, depression, fear, shame, and loss that comes with this process.

Stick by your person. It’s scary. They need you simply to love them, regardless of what you think.

“How do you know your gay?”

To that question, I can only ask: how do you know you are straight? Exactly. You just know.

I remember as a young girl thinking I was different because I wasn’t attracted to boys the way others were. I pretended, and of course I can objectively recognize a man’s beauty, but I was not drawn to it the way I felt I was supposed to be. I know I am gay because I am attracted to women. In the same way, I know I am a vegetarian because I don’t eat meat. I know that I have green eyes because I was born with them. Much of what makes us us, isn’t easily extracted with explanations. It just is. 

“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy.”

Oh boy. I tried being straight for a number of years. I believed this. I thought that maybe I just hadn’t met the right one. And so, I went on a dating blitz and had dinner with boys from all over the place (Denver, Centennial, Parker, etc.) I dated some more seriously. And trust me when I say, it was not a fit. Even when I met someone who was everything I would want on paper, when it came closer to physical intimacy (or really, any intimacy at all), I balked big time. It felt so, so wrong. This is not about meeting the right man, it is about knowing which gender is the one I am attracted to.

______________

NOTE:

Full transparency: this was hard to write.

It is hard to revisit these painful wounds that I have experienced. Yet, when they keep happening, I know it’s then time to say something. I still struggle the residual impact of coming out. I wrestle with anxiety and shame. I fear I am doing something wrong, sometimes. But I am happy to say, that BECAUSE of my faith and trust in God (and myself) I know who I am is good. I know I am worthy. I know I am loved. No matter what questions or words come my way, this truth cannot be altered.

Thank you for reading. Keep spreading love.

IMG_0060

God just is.

I have often found that the presence of the Divine is surprisingly subtle.

Experiencing, feeling, noticing, observing, communing (or really, whatever you want to call it) with God, for me, is typically an occurrence in the quieter, more reflective spaces of my life.

This is counterintuitive to many of the religious spaces I have found myself in over the years. Places where God is equal to loud praises, loud shouts, and loud songs. And sure, God can be found here too, in fact, I think that God is accessible anywhere and everywhere.

Yet, for me I feel God when my environment errs on the side of discreet and still.

So, it was completely “on brand” that when riding my bicycle this afternoon I felt the noticeable, pressing experience of God. Gliding along the paths near Crestmoor Park I was sorting through what felt like a million feelings. I had just returned from Rwanda. Even after two weeks, I was literally gleeful to be with Chelsea again. I was considering upcoming transitions. I was thinking about weddings, fall plans, and the end of summer. I was also recalling conversations with my parents, wanting to make sure that they were both doing well after not speaking with them during my travels.

A lot was on my mind. At one point during these thoughts, I turned the corner, touching on my brakes ever so slightly when –

Silence.

I felt a need for all things to be quiet – mostly the noise in my head. And so, with resistance, I silenced my questions, to-do lists, and contemplations. I existed in the moment, amidst the vibrant, green trees and slightly rocky bike paths. Suddenly, a mantra –

You are loved. You are enough. You do not have to explain yourself.

These phrases came to mind – on repeat – like a song that you just cannot get enough of. I wondered to myself: how do you know when you are skimming the line of God versus when you’re giving yourself positive self-talk?

Real question.

And, the real answer is that I don’t know. I literally have no idea. However, I do have a hunch.

When I am with God, everything is in balance. Everything is with perspective. And, any thoughts I have (positive or otherwise) feel exquisitely simple and yet equally profound. It is as though my spirituality is full of reminders of love, yearnings for compassion, and fierce dedication to hope. All of this, without any of my own internal baggage. It is quite nice.

Prayers, revelations, and messages come together – time with God is never so clearly sparred out and divided like we do with our church programming. God just is.

I kept riding my bike, sifting through this nugget of faith that I was greatly welcoming. You see, connecting with God in this way has been more difficult lately. There has been so much moving around, so much change, so much distraction, to be frank. Because of that, I have missed these still moments that allow me to push further, beyond myself, so that I can access God, the Divine, and explore life from a fresher perspective – even if it is just for a moment.

Connection with God, I am learning requires connection to self. One must take the space. One must understand their identity. One must be willing to find what is available to them in any moment. God does not require a church, God does not require a certain verse or saying, God does not require a performance.

God just desires you – me – us.

Realizing this is changing my prayers, too. Today, I prayed a simple set of questions, a kind of prayer of humility:

God.

Thank you for today.

Thank you for bringing me home.

Thank you for the love I have in my life.

My hope is to steward this love well.

Where can I grow?

Where can I learn?

Where can I forgive?

Where can I hope?

Where can I give?

Where can I receive?

Where can I support?

Teach me how to explore these spaces – whatever my resistance, whatever my disposition. May I live well. May I love well.

God, help me to not forget the richness of this life. God, be with the hungry. God, be with the lonely. Be with all of us – regardless of belief, regardless of circumstance, regardless of anything. May your presence and experience be known. May your love reign.

I love you.

 Faith is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily complex.

I will forever fall short of describing my faith. I mean, how does one describe that which can only be felt?

Here’s to finding God in all kinds of places, in the most unexpected of ways.

IMG_7046.JPG

from, through, to

Last month, Our Bible App officially launched.

I first learned about the development of Our Bible App after Chelsea attended the Gay Christian Conference in 2017 (now Q Christian Fellowship) and learned about the project. The creator, Crystal Cheatham, was looking for devotional writers.

On a whim, I submitted a devotional and low and behold, it got published.

Our Bible App is a “progressive worship and meditation experience” that offers multiple bible translations and additional podcasts, video, and writings from pro-LGBTQ+ individuals and advocates for interfaith inclusivity. You can download it here, and is available in Android or Apple format.

The mission of Our Bible App is broad; the app “…supports the belief that spirituality is a spectrum and that faith is a journey. At its core, the holy text was written to be inclusive of all of God’s creation especially those on the margins.” The goal of the resource is to “untangle the binds that Christian colonizers have spread across the globe over hundreds of years.”

That’s huge. And, I’m grateful to have some small, teeny, tiny part. I’ve included my devotional below (titled “from, through, to“), but if you are interested in learning more about this work, you can read about it in Sojourners and via PBS.

Cheers.


 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1081

from   

A closeted woman, I carried the secret of my sexual identity for over 15 years until my aunt bluntly probed during a late, wine-infused Thanksgiving evening, “are you gay?”

The world stood still. I froze. I knew. “Yeah, yeah. I mean, yes, I’m gay.”

In the aftermath of her asking, however, I wasn’t yet ready to fully “come out.” Yet, though my journey ofopenness began here, I was still so far removed from any ounce of a freedom to be me.

I was stuck on one repeated worry, “what would God think?”

Though I could verbalize my gayness, living life openly (and liberated from fear) would take a lot more time – and perhaps a lot more conversation (wine included).

The taste of freedom for my half-opened gayness lasted one week. Then, like a tidal wave absorbing each grain of the sand, I fled from the truth, using the following year to try and “fix myself.” I tried believing that being gay was wrong and in a twisted expression of love, that my faithfulness for God could be conveyed through a path of righteousness – shame and doubt as the main forms of transport.

Denial worked, to a point, until I came upon the intensity and depth of the gospel. Instead of ignoring questions about who I was and how I was created, I began to ask them to God. I slowly sought to remove the voices of my head, the sound of religiosity flowing from my past, and to hear only the voice of the Divine. I could be vulnerable – not necessarily yet for others, but first, for God and for myself.

The gospel is a story of God’s people returning to who they were made to be. Our God does not desire or expect us to hide from Him; that “god” is a man-made, offensive, and manipulated version of who God is. God is wide, vast, loving, and able to exist within tensions and complexities that we can hardly grasp. This God re-writes the narrative that humans are only evil, malicious, and sinful people. God made us in His image[1], and hence, there are fragments of His character everywhere.

A return to God is less about a perfection of righteousness, and more about the righteousness that comes from Him, God. God created us as free, open, and genuine humans. When it comes to our identity this is even more pressing: if we are unable to see that all of us come from God then how can we celebrate the lives we have been called to?

My aunt always assured me that “God makes no mistakes” and until I explored, acknowledged, and celebrated my whole identity, especially being gay, I was unable to proclaim that indeed, I was no mistake. I’m not; my roots and origins are abundantly from God.

What God wanted, was me to be me. For me to live as His daughter, unashamed and copiously open to His love. When we are released of living into the shell of someone else, we are free. We are given grace. Like our identity, this is from Him. My prayer is that we can receive it.

through

If all things, including our identity are from Him (God), then all things are also through Him.

Being a Christian who also happens to be lesbian is hard.

“Coming out” was arduous not because of the brave boldness that is required with others, but because an internal transformation of integrated identities is needed in asserting who you are.

Internal transformation shifts attitudes of fear to celebration. This kind of transformation occurs through Christ, the Messiah, that is God who meets us in human form. Repeatedly, I had to remind myself that as a woman, I was enough. I was wonderfully adequate. I did not have to change because an ideology or institution was telling me that I had to. I returned to the question, “what does God want?”

To live authentically with unyielding love for God and others – that’s the answer.

When I finally came out – to myself, most notably – I did not accomplish this through my own abilities. Christ’s love was flowing and alive in me. I could accept myself because I knew I was safe, and wholly loved with God. Christ infused belief and hope through me and brought me on a path I did not expect. I could be Christian. And, also, I could be gay.

to

Accepting each part of our identity is our life’s work.

We never stop this process. As we take a broader look at our existence, our lives become testaments and offerings back to God himself. Not religious sacrifice, but of loving, genuine devotion and gratitude.

When I reconfirmed to the world that I loved Christ (and that I was gay) I began to have conversations I never could have anticipated. People reached out to me, thanking me for my sincerity, and in turn, shared the deep corners of themselves that they had previously hid. I met someone new. I healed from a broken heart.

When we allow our identities (all of them) to stitch together and form one, unique, diverse fabric, we are presenting ourselves wholly to Christ. God can admire the work that has been done, the beautiful blending of His fingerprints and our choices, and know that are made to exude, proclaim, and propel love forward.

Let us bring our identities from God, through God, and to God, with hearts full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and all good fruits that remind the world that being gay and being Christian are just one parts of a diverse fabric of God’s people.

[1] Genesis 1:27

a new kind of church

Edith Windsor, 88, passed away last week and honestly, my heart broke a little.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 5.50.09 PM.png

Edith Windsor.

Born in 1929 in Philadelphia, amidst the tumbleweeds, dirt, and turbulence of the Great Depression, she entered her young teenage years in the midst of World War II, and then “came of age” in the 1950’s and 60’s when the United States was thick in the Civil Rights Movement.

From the very beginning, her existence lived and breathed history. She was whip smart, too, having earned a Master’s Degree from NYU in Mathematics and worked at IBM, eventually becoming a computer programmer.

Edith Windsor was (and is) an icon in the LGBT+ community; she was the lead plaintiff in the landmark case United States vs. Windsor that ultimately overturned section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (defining the term “spouse” as only applied for marriages between a man and a woman), a landmark victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 5.51.15 PM.png

Edith, following the ruling in United States vs. Windsor

Windsor’s journey started in 2009 when her spouse, Thea Spyer, died of complications from multiple sclerosis. Because they had married in Canada, the marriage was not recognized in the United States because of DOMA. Ultimately, she was forced to pay an excruciating amount of estate taxes, and knowing this was unfair and inequitable, she filed suit. Because of this case, beginning in 2015, the highest court in the land granted gays and lesbians the right to marry the people they love. Rainbow flags flooded the streets everywhere across our nation; again, our Constitution found a way to deliver on the promise that we set forth so long ago: all (men) are created equal.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 5.53.45 PM.png

Photo Courtesy of John Pavlovitz Blog.

Edith’s legacy is etched in stone and it will not soon be forgotten. At her eulogy, the Rabbi Amy B. Ehrilch noted, “…Her legacy is one of love, and the right we now have to marry the people we love…to have love as your legacy in life, and in law, is an everlasting blessing.”

Not knowing the nature of her last days, I cannot be sure if she knew of The Nashville Statement or any of the subsequent releases of mass statements for (or against) members of the LGBT+ community. If she had, I am sure it left her saddened and confused.

When The Nashville Statement was initially released, concurrent with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, the first thought I had was: why now? What’s the point? I mean, hello, we have a city nearly underwater and instead of using our energies to support them by whatever means possible, we think it is necessary to draw the line between us and them? Really?

That was even before I read the statement.

In a week of fragility, I avoided reading what I was told was a document of ignorance, judgement, and division. Curiosity won me over, as it usually does, and I found myself reading this particular Evangelical Christian Statement of Faith or “manifesto” sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Word after word, in the 14 statements put forth (with each statement including both an affirmation and denial), it was as though a large line was drawn between “right” and “wrong” and unquestionably, I was left to think I was wrong simply because of who I am.

Article 7, for example declares, “We DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”

 

Article 8, continues, “We AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful lie pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life. We DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.”

 These statements, peppered with fancy language might sound kind to some, but let me tell you, these words aren’t “kind.” These words are telling me – and others – that our understanding of self (and identity) is not supported by God. That’s heartbreaking. Plain and simple. Additionally, I have major issues with the signers of this document choosing sexual orientation and sexual identity, above many other things (think: war, death, violence, hate) as the main markers of “ruin.” Of all the things.

Woefully, what I think is forgotten when mass paragraphs of rhetoric are released is the fact that when we are talking about this, we are talking about people. You know, human beings. The Nashville Statement defaces the humanity of the “issue” and, at least in me, pressed and prodded a trigger of doubt of who I was and the wondering if God could really love me. Revisiting this shadow of doubt every so often is tremendously painful. I spent years in this space, and when it lurks and creeps back into my life, it takes every ounce of faith to scream and shout, “No!”

Which is why I was immensely relieved, in light of The Nashville Statement, that there were a handful of other statements – largely from church leaders from around the country – that stood in defense and in love for LGBT+ people. As I read through the Christians United Statement, I saw my pastor’s name at the bottom of the document with hundreds of others.

Michael Hidalgo, Denver Community Church.

Exhaling more deeply than I had all day, I let the tears of relief come to my eyes.

We’re not alone, I thought.

I felt a lot of things, but the most important one was gratitude. Beyond any doubt, I am grateful that I am a part of an inclusive, welcoming, and loving community. I am grateful that the faith community I choose to take part in prioritizes unity over uniformity. Denver Community Church (DCC), though an inclusive church, does not maintain a church body where everyone thinks the same thing on LGBT+ related issues. However, as church body, they stand in defense of us, believing that everyone has a right to be loved – namely, a right to take part in the aged tradition of pursuing a God that created us, loves us, and chooses us (all of us). In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a faith community quite like this. Loving Jesus in this way, in this lens, allows me to know him better, to know myself better, and to know others better, too.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 6.00.32 PM.png

Denver Community Church, Uptown.

I came out (officially) in 2016, one year after DOMA “was dead” and same-sex marriage became legal. This is important because “coming out” is different than it was 20 years ago; hell, it’s different than it was 200 years ago. Culturally, we’ve come a long way, and it is common to find many who acknowledge the level of safety and acceptance that exists in the fabric of our society.

I am a beneficiary of this. I inherited this. I got damn lucky.

With these ever-pressing cultural shifts, there is an opportunity for a new narrative for the church, and for LGBT+ people. This is not a case of the church adopting the mainstream culture, instead, I think it is actually a chance for the church to pursue love – whatever the cost. When Jesus tells us to follow him, to really follow him – and leave everything behind – I think that is what he’s talking about. It’s not just about our things – it’s about our assumptions, our preconceived notions, even our own ideologies. When we surrender these for a chance to love (and learn more about the people around us) crazy, crazy (good) things can happen.

Traditionally and historically, church communities have stood as pillars of “righteousness” and have rejected the idea that people could (and would) be gay.

That’s putting it lightly; gay people have been pushed to conversion therapies; gay people have been embarrassed and abused, and perhaps most frequently, their attendance has not been welcomed. The church, if anything, should be home to those who are rejected. Why on earth, have we tolerated, allowed, and permitted (implicitly or not) the church to be the rejecter?

What if churches – and perhaps, all faith communities for that matter – recognized that humanity is most beautiful because of its diversity. Because of its colors, ethnicities, genders, and orientations.

At DCC recently, Pastor Hidalgo pointed out a perspective on Genesis that he had studied from a Jewish Rabbi. This Rabbi presented a unique lens to view what God was creating in Genesis and at the time of creation; in verses 11-25, the first chapter of the Bible details the type or kinds of vegetation, light, and creatures that were being made. But, when it came to humans, in verses 26-28, there was not the same, parallel language of categories. Simply, there was, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…” This is about humanity and the vastness by which God has created us.

Now, more than ever, churches have a chance to re-write oppression and judgements of the past; we can be reconciling communities; we can open our doors; we can change.

Changing the narrative from rejection to welcoming requires commitment, time, and resilience. There are a lot of stakes; money, leadership, opinions, and ideologies. People will disagree. People might even leave. However, the formation of the church was just like this: progressive, radical, and hinged upon what? Love. Tell me Jesus wouldn’t say the same thing.

What if the church reclaimed the story?

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 6.03.16 PM.png

There is so much room for reconciliation that I can hardly wait to see what the rest of my years bring. Maybe it will be at DCC, or maybe it will be elsewhere, but I intend the rest of my life to seek these sacred spaces: the ones where both Christianity and inclusivity can thrive. It’s here, I think, where we’ll know a deeper part of Jesus.

We can move the needle toward love and it is this pursuit that is what life is really about.

The Christian Closet

“It isn’t really an option if it is never a choice…

That’s one of my main mantras.

I couldn’t even consider it.” 

With intrigue, I asked a new friend about the moment that words like “lesbian” or “gay” began to filter her reality around who she might be. She was clear; she couldn’t enter a frame of mind of being gay when the spectrum of choices doesn’t present that kind of option. Plus, with a heavy dose of wit, she commented, “oh, and I had already prayed about that. I was covered. You know, ‘God please, don’t make me a homosexual.”

We laughed and chuckled audibly at her facetiousness. We understood – and we knew what she was talking about. “Growing up in a church” often conjures memories of praying for purity, holiness, and everything in between.

We understood, because my new friend had an audience of six women; all of us, having had met at a church small group for LGBT people and allies, were gay – and together. We each were in a partnership with another woman, and thought it might be a good idea for us to hit the town, grab a drink, and share stories. All twenty-something millennial women, our conversation came easy. I mean, it was a triple date, so there was plenty of talking to do.

This happened not because of our relative age, but actually, because we shared two important identities together: gay, and Christian. I have had lengthy conversations about my sexuality with gay friends. You know, the stories of support, the stories of rejection, and the stories of hoping, wishing, that perhaps this didn’t have to be so hard. I’ve also carried my faith into all aspects of my life; integrating this reality into my worldview and friendships. I’ve shared about God, and how I understand and experience God to be, with countless of friends.

But, when, if ever, have I shared both?

It’s happened in a handful of times. My partner and I, most frequently. Loving God and loving each other happen at the same time, so we exist much like bedfellows in this way. But otherwise, the intersectionality of these experiences has been limited to the moments I came out to my community and gatherings of gay Christians in friends’ homes in Denver.

On the triple date, I drank an abbreviated version of a Moscow mule and laughed so hard that only minuscules of oxygen seemed to reach my brain. I was immersed and engaged; I was hearing stories that spoke to me, stories that made my heart feel full. These women – they knew. They knew what it had meant to risk everything. Because that’s the thing: if you come from a religiously conservative background, veering from anything normative is dangerous, risky, and highly questionable. We all had done that. At some point, each of us had to say “enough” and just do it. I was inspired.

Accepting our identities, across the board, had been a struggle for us. It pushed us all to consider: is it possible that the gay, Christian closet is a bit different from the nonreligious variety? How does coming out look different for those of different religious backgrounds, or perhaps more broadly, for those who don’t hold fast to any religion at all?

The Pew Research Center conducted a 2013 survey of 1,197 LGBT adults. Arguably, this was one of the largest surveys of its kind; LGBT data is still relatively new, especially since wider acceptance has gained traction only within the last decade. The survey asked questions related to income, lifestyle, demographics, and discrimination. Four in ten of the respondents (39%) indicated that at some point in their life, they had been rejected by a close friend or family member because of their sexuality or orientation. No wonder the closet, though daunting, is a desirable place to stay. The closet keeps us safe from rejection, from risk, and honestly, from hate.

The closet hasn’t always been a thing.

According to an article from Mental Floss, this kind of terminology to express the experience of a gay person revealing themselves to the larger community, has only been used since the 1960’s. It was pulled from the expression of debutante balls, incidentally, not necessarily with a closet involved. Yet, over the years, as gay people undergo this experience of honesty, authenticity, and saying, “hey guys, I’m gay,” we use the “closet” to understand what that feels like to break free.

My closet was a Christian closet.

This wasn’t because of a forced upon religion in my background or because of rigid demands of my family. Far from that, actually. God, my faith, this Christianity we are talking about, has been something nurtured and growing inside of me for years. My closet is inherently Christian because everything in my life has fingertips of my faith; I see the world as a beautiful creation, as something I get the opportunity to take part in, and as a life with a deep calling for love as a way to bring humanity together.

Still, I carried with me old assumptions about God, and old beliefs about what and who I needed to be. I tried coming out of the closet when I was 23. But my god, I was terrified, and went back as quickly as I came out. Certainly, like all gay people, I struggled with the fear of who would accept me – or not. But there was another element; I had to understand, and know, if God would accept me. This, I think, is an area that makes the Christian closet so different from the closeted realities my LGBT family has to overcome.

This doesn’t mean that LGBT Christians have a tougher time, rather, there is an added reality to break through. The fear of shame comes in a different dose when you fear that God, the most universal reality for many, might think of us as horrible people for who we are attracted to. It’s ominous, oppressive, and a weapon used too often against the LGBT community. That’s why I think it’s critical, as a Christian community, to do everything we can to lift this layer of shame.

 God loves us. God loves you. God loves me.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 3.26.27 PM

1 Corinthians 13

This is what I wish we would tell individuals who are afraid to be who they are. Closets are dark, isolating, and frankly, scary. At my deepest point, I assumed that I would have to live every day of my life in a state of persuasion, telling myself that I would have to be straight in order for me to be in good relationship with God. Even out of the closet, so to speak, I have moments where I am scared, ashamed, or overwhelmed. At a wedding, recently, I realized my partner and I were the only same-sex couple on the dance floor. What did people think? Did they think we were somehow less than someone else? Why can’t I just relax and rest in this moment?

Guys, this is messed up. I’m lucky because I broke through it, but the reality is that many do not.

Ironically, and surprisingly, as it relates to Christianity, as recently as 2016, 48% of LGBT people’s identify as Christian. Why does this matter? It means that a lot of people live with these co-existing tensions: being gay and being Christian. More importantly, it means that these identities do not have to be inherently tension-filled. What if we understand the community of God’s people to be open doors, welcome to anyone? What if Christian communities became leaders in recognizing that LGBT people are humans too, and equally deserving of God’s love?

Who are we to stand in the way of that?

Who are we to construct deeper closets for deeper pain?

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 3.26.39 PM.png

I don’t think that’s what Jesus imagined when he spoke of the Kingdom of God. I also do not think Jesus was talking about a utopia, rather, I think he was talking about the full manifestations of love. Love. It’s hard, messy, and difficult to navigate. However, if we commit ourselves to it, I believe that more people can come out, and come out safely. I believe more people can come out and know God. I believe that we can live in a better world, a safer one, one that chooses humanity over law; freedom over subjugation; community over isolation. The Christian Closet is a real, exasperating, and demanding experience, and I hope (and pray) that it won’t always be. I pray that we can always, always celebrate each other, for whatever and whoever we are.

Now, let’s get to work.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 3.26.15 PM.png

the welcoming tradition.

Men hate each other because they fear each other,
and they fear each other because they don’t know each other,
and they don’t know each other
because they are often separated from each other.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In times of grief, I often pray with my hands cupped together, as if I’m holding all the pain in my tired fingers and asking for God to see it, hold it, and carry it with (or for) me.

I began praying like that on a trip that culminated with time at a progressive Methodist church in Birmingham, Alabama (Highlands United Methodist Church). I was with a group of Hendrix students, learning about the Civil Rights movement while also taking part in service work. This experiential learning program was designed to explore on-going, systemic issues of poverty, race, and historical segregation – especially in the South. On one of the final evenings, I stayed alone in a small, chapel-like room and lifted my hands like in the cup-like stance, praying that God would teach me how to have an open heart. My soul was tired from the stories we had heard. I was at a loss for words – in disbelief of how our country had so violently and rigorously held onto exclusionary policies and attitudes because of a person’s race.

What disturbed me then, as it continues to do so now, (today, in 2017 when we legislate the rejection of people not quite like “us”) is that exclusion was not the kind of tradition I was taught. I, in the tapestry of experiences across state lines, groups, ethnicities, countries, genders, and families have been shown and empowered with a welcoming tradition. I refuse, resolutely, to disembark from this way of loving and honoring the humanity around us.

I took time this week to jot down specific moments or circumstances by which was modeled for me as a way of inclusion.

Inclusion, inherently, comes with risks.

If we embrace “otherness” in our communities (whether that includes a different religion, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic background, gender, etc.) we can’t guarantee consensus. If we celebrate diversity, we might have to live in the tension of misalignment. Most profoundly, if we welcome people that are not like the community we live within then we might lose the power we have systemically maintained.

Imagine!

What if the opportunity for inclusion presented a pathway to disassemble privilege so that we could access a more equitable, shared, opportunity-rooted society?

I’ve suggested something like this with close family members before and have been called a “socialist.” In a better light, I’ve been characterized as simply “too idealistic.”

But in fact, welcoming others is a tradition found within the framework of the beginning Christian community, not merely something I only formulated myself.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15: 5-7; 13

My push, desire, and passion for inclusion stems first from my faith, and then from my upbringing and experiences. Truthfully, it also comes from a deep-seeded belief that each and every human has value. All of us. We’re messy, incomplete, wrong, misguided, mean, selfish, corrupt, and imperfect people. But, that doesn’t change the fact that we are alive and to be image-bearers of Christ. We are not Christ. Rather, we are made in His image, carrying some piece of that reflection with us.

I’m blessed because I’ve seen enough inclusion in my life to know that it is the worthy way. I will commit my life to it. And for that, I have the people in my life to thank for showcasing what it means to see, love, and accept people and to courageously choose the path of integration, not separation. It’s harder, but the right thing usually is.

Inclusion: noun

the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

Divorce

Appropriately, my first molding to what relational inclusion can be, came from my parents. I’m forever grateful for that.

My parents divorced in the fall of 2003. I was 14. It was the dismantling of my family as I knew it, though frankly, I had expected it to occur many years prior. I was sad, of course, but I was also hopeful that both of my parents could heal and find the happiness they so deeply longed for, needed, and deserved.

Initially, to cope, I threw myself (literally) into sports. Field hockey became the outlet by which I could channel my spectrum of emotions (despair, gratitude, doubt, expectation, concern, and uncertainty) and still process what was happening. My parents were available to ask questions, and most conspicuously, did their damndest to uphold consistency to our life. I still took the bus to school, I maintained delicious dinners of macaroni and cheese, and for a while, we stayed in the same house, with our parents rotating each week.

Eventually, as the dust began to settle, even over the course of months, years, and other marriages, I witnessed something quite miraculous. My mother and father kept an amiable relationship, and because of that, kept an inclusionary approach to each other in our lives. It would have been easy for my mom or my dad to silo their experiences with us – away from one another. Instead, together, they attended sports’ games and activities and together, built the role of both “mother” and “father” equally, without marginalization or omission. This can be unique in the status-quo for divorced families.

What I learned – from both mom and dad– is that even in time of division, a cohesive community still can be cultivated. Our family could remain intact, just different than before.  Yet, even in our pain, our growth as a family that included myself, my brother, my mom, and my dad remained.

Menifee

I graduated from a public-school system with resources. Lots of them. Cherry Creek Schools are well-known (locally and nationally) for excellent teachers, technologies, and innovative classroom methods. To be honest, I didn’t know how lucky I was until I left.

I’ve always loved volunteerism and as a student just outside of Little Rock, I made it a priority to find the perfect club, activity, or organization where I could get involved. When I joined the team of Menifee, a tutoring and education program for rural Arkansasan youth, I fully, and finally realized how advantaged I had been to receive the kind of education I did.

Menifee, a small, rural town near my school (we’re talking population 311), is a community that has over 10% of people living below the poverty line. It also has a sizeable population that attend school districts lacking in quality teachers, experiential learning, and enough resources (say, textbooks) to provide high-level classroom engagement.

Once a week, a well-known (and well-liked) Hendrix professor would bring a handful of tutors to practice spelling, mapping, or time tables with Menifee youth. Her compassion for this community was compelling and deep; she worked for years to elevate the educational opportunities for these children, and truthfully, it was inspiring to even just be around. Unrelentingly, she believed that these children had every right to access a fair, equitable education.

Tutoring was just one facet of her efforts; she also advocated for parental engagement, believing that strong families can encourage student proficiency. I learned from her that inclusion of all students is essential to our future. If we neglect students from rural, minority, or poor communities, we inherently advocate for a society that doesn’t push forth opportunities for knowledge – for all.

GLOW & BE

While in the Peace Corps, I wrote extensively about the experience of educating young women, particularly in the realm of personal growth, leadership, relationship-building, and women’s issues. After school, once a week, I would meet with our “GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World) Club (usually with around 20 students) to discuss issues relevant to their lives (sex education, menstruation, studying habits, and boys). It was a powerful experience, one that still informs the work and passions I have for encouraging safe spaces for women.

Over time, the club became, truly, theirs. I sat on the side, allowing their own leadership to thrive and for them to establish the kind of conversation they desired.

After about a year of meeting regularly, the president of the group approached me with an idea: let’s include the boys. I was confused at first. Boys? We want to empower boys? Wasn’t our club designed to empower our female populations?

Her idea took root. By including males in the conversation of empowerment, we empower both genders – together. If women are to rise in confidence, efficacy, and choice, inherently, men would need to join us. They would need to advocate for us, and us for them. We started a “BE” (Boys Empowered) club the following term – designed to educate boys on how they can be a part of the process to empower themselves – and women.

Even years later, I’m still amazed at this kind of foresight and progressive thinking. Inclusion, is necessary for all genders, across all spaces.

Denver Community Church

Most recently, my church, Denver Community Church (DCC), has publicly announced its decision to be a fully inclusive church – largely in reference to inclusion of the LGBT community.

The 2-year discernment process involved elders of the church praying, analyzing scripture, discussing, and meeting with members of the LGBT community. They have most recently launched a 5-week learning group to explore these issues publicly, and declare, without reservation that LGBT members are welcome to attend, serve, and have as meaningful of a place in the church as anyone else.

I’m gay, and I’ve known that a long time but have not lived outwardly and authentically until more recently.

I never thought I would be brave enough to share this.

I never thought I would live the life I dreamed of.

I never thought I would find a church that would celebrate this.

I never. I began so many sentences with that word. I was ashamed, scared, sad, and resigned to the fact that I would have to hide this for the rest of my life.

Yet, something happened within the last year. I entered a time of deep prayer. I was provided the opportunity to do counseling. I began realizing (and fully accepting) how much God loved me. I began saying my truth aloud (again and again again) – without fear, without shame, and certainly, without going back. I had told family members before about this deep-knowing of who I was, but previously, had been too scared to live out the life I knew I was supposed to lead.

This year, I moved forward more boldly, sharing with my best friend that I knew I was meant to be with a woman. On a crazy (and wonderfully surprising) set of circumstances, I met a woman. We started dating. She became my girlfriend.

fullsizerender-2And then, this church came along, also.

You see, it all happened so fast, like a beautiful unfolding of a story that is meant to be. Even for myself, I can barely keep up.

Freedom does that – it happens fast and you can’t help but just succumb to the reality of real, gritty, kick-your-ass kind of faith.

Freedom for myself, and for others, to love God is the most beautiful kind of inclusion. We can have a place with Jesus. We can bring our most true versions of ourselves and continue to Love God, and Love others. We can live out the gospel actively and fully.

DCC isn’t asking everyone to agree with their stance on LGBT issues. What they are suggesting, instead, is a move towards love. A move towards, “unity not uniformity.” I would hope for the same thing. Because, as I witness this inclusion occur from afar, now in Rwanda for the next few weeks, I am learning how transformative inclusion can be – for anyone. I’m honored to be in a church that models this and lives this out.

Inclusion. Love. Community.

The pursuit of these ideal may be arduous, but I want in. I’m all in. No matter what.

hallelujah.

The scents of pine, the tastes of cranberry, and the melodic tunes of carols are familiar friends when December rolls around each year. Christmas, despite its yearly inevitability, often comes swiftly as we enter a time of reflection, rest, and preparation for the new year to come.

For the four Sundays (and weeks) leading up to Christmas, the Christian church honors a time of advent, when God’s people wait in anticipation of the Lord’s coming. Advent means “coming” in Latin and per the United Methodist Church, advent is a time we can, “remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation, and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.[1]

This advent season, I’ve been more intentional to contemplate what this means – historically, traditionally, and practically.

The first advent Sunday is about hope, reflecting on the journey of the prophets in the Bible that spoke of the promise of liberation and freedom for God’s people. A candle is lit, around a wreath, and in silence we let hope permeate our mind and hearts. After attending a service at Denver Community Church on the first Sunday of advent, I went to Washington Park for a true Sabbath activity: roller-blading. As I glided over the smooth pavement, I took in the world around me. I saw neighbors walking their dogs (and cats), holding hands with their loved ones, and taking family photographs in the cool, winter air. A single thought crossed my mind again, and again, and again: do not lose hope.

When I reached my car, and put my roller-blading gear away, I then took a walk around the pond, near the center of the park. The water was mostly covered in ice, with geese resting unassumingly upon it, and I was intrigued by the stillness and peacefulness that was happening in the middle of a busy park in a really busy city.

img_4749

With a slow, meandering pace, I put my headphones in and heard the words of a song that immediately (and unexpectedly) brought tears to the edges of my eyes.

I had put my YouTube playlist on shuffle and found A Hallelujah Christmas” by Cloverton. With the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Cloverton’s rendition is instead about the birth of Jesus.

As I circled the water quietly, I listened to the song no less than six times.

In the Gospel of Luke, it is written that, “While they [Mary & Joseph] were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”[2]

A Hallelujah Christmas” also alludes to the unexpected manner by which Jesus entered the world. He – and his family – were not welcome at the inn. I repeated the line, “there was no room for them to stay…” and asked myself where I had neglected other people, or even God, in my own life.

I thought about Syria. Struggles in my family. Fear. Depression. The election. Gun violence. Racism. Division. Loneliness. Poverty. Shame. Greed. Conflict.

Even in my best of intentions, so much of the world we move within is broken and hurting. There is suffering and there is deep pain. Yet, as I listened to this song, again, and again this advent season, I became more in awe of “the Word becoming flesh” and God entering – boldly, violently, and radically – into this world. Hallelujah.

Jesus’ birth in a manger signifies the reality of Immanuel, “God with us.” We love and pursue a God that has met us – and continues to meet us – right where we are. For as much as I think, contemplate, and write about this, I still struggle to wrap my mind around it. God’s love for us is bigger than the structures or barriers we build. God is larger than our expectations. God is truly, wholly with us. And, we have been made complete. More than that, God understands all of us. Where we lose words, we find Him and His grace.

On that day in Washington Park, as I often do when I think about God, I looked up towards the trees all around me. I thought about the strength of my family. My future. Living openly, and authentically. Finding community. My friends around the world. Falling in love.

img_4975

Advent is a time for waiting. It’s hard to wait sometimes. It’s hard to be uncomfortable and to sit with realities that break our hearts. But, we must know and remember that the brokenness is not – and never will be – the end of the story. Christ has come. He continues to be with us. And, He will come again.

*

I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing Hallelujah
Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh Hallelujah
Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah
Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah
Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah
Hallelujah

[1] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-is-advent

[2] Luke 2: 6-7