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

Cakes & Things

If I have learned anything as a budding adult it is that saying “yes” to some things requires a “no” to other things.

Classic example: sleeping in is saying “yes” to rest and “no” to an early morning work-out. It might vary on a different day; we are constantly making choices that fluctuate depending on our environment, our situation, and our needs.

I have found that since starting graduate school in January I have said “yes” to pursuing my dream to be a counselor and “no” to lots of other things – extra time with friends, more time write, and the ability to read books for fun. However, I would choose this “yes” a thousand times over so truly, no regrets.

One of the other sacrifices I have had to make is my deep immersion in the plethora of podcasts I listen to (CPR, The Liturgists, TED Radio Hour, Fresh Air, and Queer Theology). This means that I do not always have the most up-to-date news insights or analysis of current events. I am trying to keep up, but in full honesty, it is hard.

And so, the only reason I heard about the Supreme Court ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is because my news ticker on my computer alerted me right away – somehow, awhile back, I set a reminder to send me the ruling when it was released. And low and behold, it was decided this past week.

As I read the decision and court brief I was shocked. However, undeterred, I read more.

The case, was actually quite complex in the process to reach the Supreme Court, proposed two sides: the right to create (or not) “art” that is line with a person’s beliefs and the right for a person to not be discriminated in a public space (business).

Ultimately, the decision of the court was with Jack Phillips (Masterpiece Cakeshop) because of the hostility he faced from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (which certainly failed to remain impartial during the proceedings and ruling process.

However, even in the majority opinion, the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ were affirmed. I wondered, could this still be an advancement for the LGBTQ+ community?

Justice Kennedy, in releasing the majority opinion wrote, “Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. The decision clearly states that it is a general rule that religious and philosophical objections “do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services.”

While the case failed to be a “win” in the traditional sense for the plaintiffs, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, there are undercurrents in the decision that I hope will bode well for anti-discrimination cases in the future (I am sure there will be many, many more).

After reading (and reading some more) about the case, I spent some time reflecting and honestly found myself slightly lethargic. Though the case may actually fuel protections for LGBTQ+ people, I feel a bit weary in trying to remind people that really, people are just people. It would be nice if we could all treat each other with basic decency. We do not have to agree. Not even a little.

I keep hoping that we can arrive at a place that acknowledges (no matter what you think or what politics that you hold) the humanity central to all of us.

We are all just people. I get that we have beliefs. We have ways of seeing the world. We have ideologies. But my goodness, if we continue to bicker about who we can (or cannot) sell cake too, I’m worried about how we can move forward in other dialogues and other forms of living together.

I guess this is a bit idealistic, eh?

I am no law expert, but I do rest on the fact that I would rather spread more love than not.

I would rather welcome more people than not.

I would rather say “yes” than not.

You can still hold your beliefs and decide to acknowledge the humanity in another human being. I promise, it is not impossible. What’s the worst that could happen?

When you have experienced exclusion, you know the pain and you know the hurt of being outside of belonging. Inclusivity, I think, propels us forward far faster than exclusivity. For this reason, and more, whatever and wherever I end up, I will press for the inclusion of everyone. This is the work of social justice.

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 Baptism of Narragansett

Sea crumbs clutch the ankles of my shell-cast feet;

the sand sinks, as i run, run, run,

melting like ice cream in the breezy, cold sun of Narragansett.

 

my voice is no longer silenced but i choose to be quiet –

the Sea has something important to say,

the liberation of others is bound in you.

the liberation of you is bound in others.

 

i am tired of being the oppressed;

i am tired of being the oppressor,

why must i be both?

Sea, won’t you free me?

 

white gay rich woman traveled far

to be here.

 

wildly, i embrace the ocean, the Sea, the wide blue of love

my breathe is cut short,

i am outside of me, finally.

 

do i feel oppressed?

i am oppressed in what we call beautiful –

i am oppressed in what we call love –

i am oppressed in how you look at me –

i am oppressed in how i must justify my choices –

 

my oppression is blind

you will not find it in

poor slums,

poor homes,

the confines of my office,

or the car i drive

 

you will find it in the secret corners of dark hearts.

 

have i oppressed?

i took what was not mine

i received what i did not work for

i benefited from the whiteness that covers me, follows me, lives in me –

 

Baptize me, Sea, in the freedom to know I am loved.

 

I am enough.

I am an active agent here, on earth, on the sweet Sea of Narragansett,

and I will fight for those who stand, sit, and fight in chains –

 

and for myself –

i will open the lungs for breath and use my words for good,

i will write the words of truth,

i will give up power for the sake of the other,

i will ask again, and again, and again that the oppressor in me – will die –

 

I am free, like the Sea crumbs that fill my hair, heart, soul.

Bring me to the salvation of perfect love.

IMG_2764

IMG_2793

IMG_2837.JPG

the power of people

Since becoming an avid fan of walking (read: my knees keep hurting whenever I run) I have found numerous ways to channel my thoughts while my legs boost me forward.

Sometimes, I listen to podcasts (the Robcast, Denver Community Church, Modern Love, Call Your Girlfriend, and Fresh Air top my favorites); sometimes I focus on the sounds around me and identify what each thing is (certainly, more applicable in an urban environment), like yelling children, sound of birds, or bicycles climbing up long, arduous hills.

IMG_1570.JPG

Kayonza, Rwanda

Occasionally, and when I’m feeling particularly contemplative, I literally put myself in someone else’s shoes.

The exercise is simple: when you find yourself in an area with other humans, find someone that catches your eye. Without being a total creep, observe them.

Ask some (or all) of the following questions:

  1. Who are they?
  2. Where are they going?
  3. Where are they coming from?
  4. Do they have a family?
  5. What has happened in their life?
  6. Who has molded their life?
  7. What goals could they hold? Dreams?
  8. What might be easy in their life? Hard?

You won’t know the answers to these questions. That’s the whole point.

The exercise is not about judgement, nor is it about feeling jealous or “sorry” for another person; it’s about thinking about all kinds of persons and what their lives might be like.

I believe, and I know, that existing outside of ourselves (even for a few minutes) cultivates a deep, abiding kind of empathy because when we realize that the moving world does not hinge upon us, we are more fully aware of what and who we are surrounded by. I started doing this a few years ago, and I’ve noticed that with time, it’s furthered my understanding that we all sit on different spectrums of everything.

There is no linear human being.

Most recently, I did this exercise on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a town named Cyangugu. The town sits on the Southwest corner of Rwanda, with just over 60,000 people living in the surrounding area. It is a lakeside town, with sambaza (a type of fish) as a preferred food type. I spent little time here when I was in the Peace Corps, as my community was nearly 8 or 9 hours away, within the Eastern part of the country.

Our TWB team was in the region to complete a bread market analysis which involved visits with other local bakeries, visiting shops that source bread for customers, and researching local preferences for consumption. To understand the place as best as I could, I knew that moving by foot would be advantageous. I think that because you can use your five senses in varying degrees, walking is the most optimal way to learn about a place. Amid our bread research, outside a crowded, local market, I decided to contemplate a woman moving hastily with charcoal on the road.

It was raining.

The moisture of the air swelled together with the dust-capped pavement, like a gust of earth touching each part of my body. I tried to squint my eyes so I didn’t fall into a ditch or misstep and run into one of many pedestrians moving from one place to another. People were moving with intention; while the sunshine might keep people in a haze, the rain acts like a buzzer for immediacy. Suddenly, whether going to the market, to the lake, or to home, the journey must be done speedily.

As the pace of the conglomerate of people around me quickens, I spot a middle-aged woman carrying charcoal. The bag rests in such a way that the top piece is strapped around her forehead and the bulk of the weight is held by her back. She was wearing royal blue fabric with yellow adornments. She was also sweating, profusely, and her muscles seem to mold to the bag as if she knows it well – perhaps carrying these kinds of things every day. Her skin is well-worn by the sun. She seems tired. Strong, but very tired.

She had a ring on her left hand – perhaps she was married – and hence, it’s possible that she was also a provider for children, too. She dropped the charcoal near a bus for loading. I watched from afar as she received a wage – what appeared to be in coins – from her presumed boss. She counted her money. She left.

Was this her day’s wage? Was it enough to buy food? Is she from around these parts?

I can’t know the answers to the questions. I know nothing about her life. And yet, I feel heartbroken.

At any given time, we are surrounded by those who have a life full of opportunity, or perhaps oppression; poverty, or perhaps money; dreams, or perhaps hopelessness; limitations, or perhaps, educational access; hunger, or perhaps food; a job, or perhaps unemployment; nothingness, or perhaps status; mobility, or perhaps subjugation; isolation, or perhaps friends; and health, or perhaps sickness.

Turns out, our privilege is mobile (we carry it with us) and it sits on a spectrum depending on where you find yourself.  If we are engaging with the people around us, we can’t always know the levels or places of their privilege, but we can assess the levels of our own – depending on the situation.

As I watched this woman walk away, with hundreds of others around me, I couldn’t help but think: why do individual lives often look so disproportionate? Is this privilege at work? Or something else?

For instance, on this trip, I walked into bakeries, asked questions, and received tours of the facility without hardly a second glance. I even went home with a free loaf of bread. It’s possible (and likely) that being white had something to do with this.

In the same trip, however, I also entered a bar full of drunk men to purchase a bottle of water. Quickly, I was made to feel small, like my place was not there. I was mocked and laughed at and felt uncomfortable immediately. A drunk man tried to touch me – I left. Here, in spaces like that, I hold very little power – conceptually speaking. It’s possible (and likely) that being a woman had something to do with this.

After intentionally thinking about this woman – and the realities and possibilities in her life – I came back to our hotel room and cried.

I cried because I am maddened by inequity. I’m angered by lack of opportunity. I’m aghast at the nature of cyclical poverty. I’m saddened by loneliness. All of it – it’s so much to absorb and understand. It seems, tapping into this ONE woman’s life for 15 minutes allowed an outpouring of questions, thoughts, concerns, and opinions to rise from deep within me.

I can’t forget the way this feels.

If I forget, I become numb to justice.

If I forget, together, we will not overcome.

If I forget, we cannot acknowledge where we are limited, but where we have power.

I want to understand, know, and dissect the privilege I have. I also know, intimately, that there are areas in my life in which I’m not privileged. Learning to know these places is just as important.

And so, I will keep going on my walks and will maintain awareness of the people around me. For me, people serve as markers and reminders of all the powerful, incredible diversity of humanity, and still also the work we have ahead to ensure human rights are met for everyone.

Justice does not imply equality and that life is the same for everyone; justice, instead, necessitates equity – that we all can build a healthy, prosperous, supportive life, all within the context of our God-given place on this Earth. Whether in small-town Indiana, or on the shores of Thailand, all of us, as people, must know more about others, and then take hard-looks at ourselves, too. We must not be afraid to see our own privilege (and limitations) and then address it head on.

How does our privilege perpetuate systems?

How do acknowledge our mobile privilege and do something about it?

How can our privilege influence change?

These are the questions that this exercise ignites in me.

This is the power of people.

img_1370

Cyangugu, Rwanda