a new kind of church

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

What Our Bumper Stickers Say About Us

Since the Spring of 2016, I have driven my Subaru Legacy around with a royal blue and yellow Human Rights Campaign (HRC) sticker on the right-hand side of the trunk, just above the bumper.

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The HRC logo, depicting equality for all, was released in 1995 by the HRC, designed by Stone Yamashita.

I got the decal during Denver Pridefest and knew, immediately, that I wanted to put it on the back of my car. For some reason, it felt easier to put the sticker on the rear of my car first, and then, subsequently, tell my family and friends that not only did I support marriage equality, but that I too was gay. When I decided that this was the marker I wanted to put on my car – for all to see – I thought it would be best to do so with a handful of other stickers, too: the Rwandan flag, a Peace Corps logo, and a simple cross.

 

Aha, I thought.

Now people would be really confused, wondering, who is this person driving around with progressive Christian flag-focused stickers? Exactly. Like a declaration of identity, I wanted to spread the word that we could be all kinds of different things, all at once.

But, again, what was so compelling about presenting my identity through the medium of a vehicle? Couldn’t I have been happy enough with having conversations about these sorts of things? Why did I feel it necessary to stick adhesive on my trunk in order to say, “Hey! Look at me! This is what I stand for!”

I suppose a great deal of this drive is to identify or stand with something. Perhaps, subconsciously we can feel “in” when someone else sees the stickers and acknowledges that we are a certain kind of person. We feel validated, like our stickers subscribe us to a larger set of values or pillars. Unspoken, of course, as most of the time cars that are around us, speed down roads and highways, interchanging lanes, paying no attention to us anyway.

Bumper stickers aren’t all that old in the broader view of things; bumper stickers weren’t really a “thing” until after World War II. In an upgrade from “bumper signs” that were made from paper and string, Forest Gill was able to invent a new kind of adhesive combination that made for an actual bumper sticker. In the years following, these became incredibly popular for campaigning. By 1968, 20 million stickers were printed from the presidential campaign for Alabama Governor George Wallace, the famous segregationist. They were a big deal. Now, many historians and manufacturers alike believe they are on the decline, with political campaigns focusing more on the televised process, rather than the rally-like “hurrah” days.

More screen time equals less bumper stickers.

In some ways, however, they’re still booming around the city, especially Denver, with political affiliations (be it Obama or Trump), and also, things that are declarative like, “University of Colorado Mom”, “Proud Parent of an Honor Roll Student” or wishful thinking like “Coexist” or “Peace Not War.” There’s some a bit more on the defensive side, like, “9/11 was in Inside Job” or “Fear the Government that Fears your Guns” or “Put the Cellphone Down and Concentrate on Being a Shitty Driver.”

Really. I’ve seen it all.

Then, I know many people who claim that they would never and I mean, never, put a bumper sticker on their car. Maybe their water bottle. Maybe. Millennials certainly enjoy putting them on the back of their computer, so that’s always an option as well.

But for the resistant, what’s the hold up? Perhaps, in ways, it feels crass to declare our ideas or belonging simply with a paper stuck on our car. Isn’t that the function of social media these days? Isn’t Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest enough?

Also, it takes a long time to get bumper stickers off cars. I should know. Just this last week I removed two of my bumper stickers out of the feeling of wanting a clean slate. I was tired of having a trunk-full of stickers, and so, I decided to leave only two. But that is the thing: it took at least 45 minutes to remove them both. Is it really worth it? It’s kind of a funny store, too: driving through rural Kansas, Chelsea and I stopped for gas at a Shell station. As the gas poured into my tank, I took a ice pick and furiously began scraping the stickers off my car. Of course, in this moment, I was removing the cross, which I am sure, looked just fabulous in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure bystanders were wondering about what kind of heathen I was. Oops.

Moreover, bumper stickers, at least from my travels, are curiously a phenomenon in the United States. We love being a place of free speech, so hey, why not use one of the many canvasses we have. Additionally, we likely spend more time in our cars than anyone else, so why not decorate as we wish. There’s one problem that I’m noticing, though, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t want the back of my car loaded with stickers, especially of the political kind.

Bumper stickers – more commonly the political ones – create visceral reactions in the people around us. Okay, so maybe it’s just me, but if I see a sticker that rubs me the wrong way, immediately, I build up improper, incorrect, uninformed, and rude ideologies about the person behind the wheel. Let’s be clear: I don’t even know this person. So, perhaps, less of a problem than the bumper sticker itself is our reaction to it. As an already dangerously divided nation, we keep marking territories of “us” vs “them” faster than we can do anything else. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone, and yet, if I have to be honest, I would say that I’m really tired of everything being so divisive. I’m tired of hate. I’m tired of disunity. I’m tired of rancor. I’m ready for something a little deeper, and a lot more sustainable.

I’m not asking that everyone puts “love” stickers on the back of their cars. I’m also not suggesting that no one should have bumper stickers at all. I’m just noticing that they are there, and so are we, and that we can’t help ourselves to reacting. We think these stickers are saying something about us, but it’s possible, even likely, that the stickers are saying more about the drivers around, and how we’re reacting to all of them. I’m keeping my HRC sticker on my car. I’ll hold on to my Peace Corps one, too. These come from points of pride, honestly, and I like the way they look against the sky-blue color of my car. Sure, I could put the logo of the party that I voted for, or some smart-ass comment about our President, but right now, the most important thing to do is to find the right forum. Create discussion. Encourage conversation.

We don’t have to be defined by the labels – or stickers – we put around us.

We can always be more, always learning, always striving for what’s beyond the boundaries we create. This doesn’t mean agreeing in a kumbaya circle. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of hate to overcome, and a lot of healing to pursue. So, let’s find meaningful action, not assuming that a bumper sticker or a Facebook post or an Instagram picture is going to move the needle.

We need to read, to listen, to move. We need to become informed citizens, ready to articulate what is happening around us. We need to understand our history and what’s come before us. We need a lot of things, but divisiveness is not one.

I love a funny, good bumper sticker. Just next time you put one up, think about what you are putting out into the road, and therefore, the world.

You really just don’t know, until you think about it.

Drive Safe – and enjoy the view.

The 5 Books I Always Come Back To

The reality of what’s happening in our society (racism, hatred, violence, etc.) can cause anyone to be weary, exhausted, and tired. Charlottesville, among other things, evoked all sorts of things: anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief. As we figure out how to act, how to stand for (and seek) justice, it’s also important that we know how to take care of ourselves. We can’t be of any good until we’ve properly grounded ourselves with rest. It’s a tricky balance, but what I do know is that the world doesn’t need another person burned out on doing good.

We need energized, emboldened, committed mobilizers. We need to be healthy.

For me, one way I pursue health, wellness, and re-calibration is through books. Reading – whether books, articles, or any other medium, brings about new worlds, unique world views, and lives different than our own. Reading brings fresh stories. And my god, now, more than ever, we need fresh stories to come to light.

A couple of months ago, my reading life changed dramatically with the introduction of Goodreads. Goodreads is a digital application that is revolutionary for the book-lover’s world: you can track the books you read and keep lists of books you want to read in the future. It’s magic. You can also write reviews, give ratings, and see what friends are reading, too.

By rule, I’m the type of consumer that reads, watches, or does something once. I only repeat if I really love it (in TV we’re talking Parks & Recreation or Friends) and so, in the spirit of reading in these hard times, I wanted to compile a list of books that I would read again, and again, knowing that new knowledge, insights, and inspirations would be gleaned each time.

Here’s the five books I always come back to, whether on a plane, on a beach, or in the comfort of my own home. These are books I’ve read within the last year, so though they may not be “classics” they have had a meaningful, recent, and powerful impact.

Cheers – and happy reading.

 


 

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for the Journey Now

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By: Maya Angelou

Date Read: June 2016

Summary: Maya Angelou shares the wisdom of a remarkable life in this best-selling spiritual classic. This is Maya Angelou talking from the heart, down to earth and real, but also inspiring. This is a book to treasured, a book about being in all ways a woman, about living well, about the power of the word, and about the power to move and shape your life. Passionate, lively, and lyrical, Maya Angelou’s latest unforgettable work offers a gem of truth on every page [1].

Favorite Quote: 

“That knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears, and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And it also liberates me. I am a big bird winging over high mountains, down into serene valleys. I am ripples of waves on silver seas. I’m a spring leaf trembling in anticipation.” 

My Reaction:  

If you know anything about me, you know that I love Maya Angelou. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember, however, only have read a wider array of her works since entering my mid (and late) twenties. What I love about Maya’s work is that she uses words like art – to say something.

I found this book sitting a light blue Little Free Library box near the University of Denver. I was on my daily walk, listening to a podcast, when abruptly, I stopped and knew I should look for a piece of literature that would be a nice read for a rare, free summer evening I was having. I saw this book, noting the mere 130-ish pages and figured I could finish the book in a couple of days. I read the book in three hours.

Devouring the pages about what Angelou has learned in her life as an author, as an African American woman, and as a global citizen, over a glass of Merlot, I hung on every single word. I laughed, I cried, I gasped. She is a brutally frank author, still with a sense of softness that makes the heavy realities easier to absorb. This book functions like a striking list of learnings at the end of one’s life. Full of unaged wisdom, I gifted this book to all of my best friends that year for Christmas.

This was the book that gave me hope that if I came out (I did) that I would be okay. This book told me that I could be brave, be myself, and make it out of any struggle I have and would face. This book spoke to me, reminding me of an inherent strength I hold – just by being. I think it can speak to anyone and everyone – and so, yes, I would return to this book a million times before it would ever get old. It’s a classic, a gem, and y’all should absolutely read it in these uncertain times.

Love Warrior 

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By: Glennon Doyle Melton

Date Read: October 2016

Summary:  The highly anticipated new memoir by bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton tells the story of her journey of self-discovery after the implosion of her marriage.

Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another – and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they’ve been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, fall in love.

Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life [2].

Favorite Quote:

“So, what is it in a human life that creates bravery, kindness, wisdom, and resilience? What if it’s pain? What if it’s the struggle?… The bravest people I know are those who’ve walked through the fire and come out on the other side. They are those who’ve overcome, not those who’ve had nothing to overcome…people who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.” 

My Reaction:  

I waited for this book on the circulation list for over two months. This book was in high-demand; I saw it listed on a summer “must-read” list and so, without knowing the contents, I signed up to be on the waiting list. When October of 2016 finally rolled around, voila! It was, finally, my turn.

Turns out, the wait was more than worth it. No big has ever made me cry this much. Scratch that – I sobbed my way through this book. It wasn’t that it was particularly sad, rather, the sentiment and truth that Melton writes about was exactly what I had been feeling – for years. This book challenges, persists, and celebrates vulnerability. Melton writes about the deep, real struggles she has had in her marriage and in intimate relationships. It was refreshing to access the typically hidden aspects of such an important relationship; Melton’s stories reminded me that everyone has a story, and certainly, everyone has their struggles. It’s these struggles, I saw in this book, that make us, form us, shape us – but they aren’t what define us.

I read this book before I began to date Chelsea, and right before I was going to “come out” to most of my family. I had joined a rugby team, had visited a gay club, but wasn’t still sure that I was ready to be public with the real, honest part of myself. Reading this book was cathartic; I wept after finishing, praying to God that I was grateful to read such honesty, such comfort. I needed it. And, since reading this, I’ve continued to follow Melton’s work, always admiring her imperfect yet still honest pursuit of authenticity, love, and community. Without question, this book changed my life.

Small Great Things

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By: Jodi Picoult

Date Read: December 2016

Summary: Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong. With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game [3].

Favorite Quote:

“What if the puzzle of the world was a shape you didn’t fit into? And the only way to survive was to mutilate yourself, carve away your corners, sand yourself down, modify yourself to fit? How come we haven’t been able to change the puzzle instead?”

My Reaction:  

Anyone who has ever read Jodi Picoult knows that she is unafraid to explore difficult, challenging issues. Certainly, a great deal of her works focusses on the centrality of love, however, as time passes, I have noticed that her works incorporate issues like corporal punishment, disabilities, and with this book, race. This book was recommended to me by my partner, and frankly, was not expecting for how much this book impacted my understanding of privilege.

Since I was young, I’ve consumed books and books on the Civil Rights movement, however, there have been few moments where I’ve stopped back and thought, “how have I contributed to this? How have I benefited from the racial structures and systems in place?” This book does this.

This book pushes us to consider all types of racism: overt, passive, and historical. This book is difficult and painful but completely necessary to read. This book presses and encourages to consider: what does it mean to be an ally? What is really, truly our place? Most importantly, Picoult reminds us of a necessary truth: it’s never too late to change someone’s mind. We have influence, one way or the other, and we can yield our own power within this.

Present Over Perfect 

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By: Shauna Niequist

Date Read: July 2017

Summary: Written in Shauna’s warm and vulnerable style, this collection of essays focuses on the most important transformation in her life, and maybe yours too: leaving behind busyness and frantic living and rediscovering the person you were made to be. Present Over Perfect is a hand reaching out, pulling you free from the constant pressure to perform faster, push harder, and produce more, all while maintaining an exhausting image of perfection.

Shauna offers an honest account of what led her to begin this journey, and a compelling vision for an entirely new way to live: soaked in grace, rest, silence, simplicity, prayer, and connection with the people that matter most to us [4].

Favorite Quote:

“What kills a soul? Exhaustion, secret keeping, image management. And what brings a soul back from the dead? Honesty, connection, grace.” 

My Reaction:  

One of the unnamed diseases that I think women, in particular, suffer from is busy-ness. This isn’t a woman’s only kind of thing, but, I do think there is something more innate in how we exist: we try to be everything and worse, think we have to be. This book offers an intimate look at the consequences of such a life, one where we think we have to do it all to be it all.

Reading about Niequists’ break-down and subsequent learning is validating and mobilizing. Many times in this book I thought, “oh yeah, I know exactly what you are talking about.” Like many of the wonderful books I’ve read, I finished this book in two days. I could not put it down. Slowing down, living present – these things seems desirable but we don’t always know exactly how to live like this. Niequest presents not a “how-to” or self-help book, but instead, a memoir that guides us into the possibility for a more meaningful, present life that honors who we are, just as we are.

The Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give

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By: Ada Calhoun

Date Read: August 2017

Summary: Inspired by her wildly popular New York Times essay The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give, Ada Calhoun provides a funny (but not flip), smart (but not smug) take on the institution of marriage. Weaving intimate moments from her own married life with frank insight from experts, clergy, and friends, she upends expectations of total marital bliss to present a realistic—but ultimately optimistic—portrait of what marriage is really like. There will be fights, there will be existential angst, there may even be affairs; sometimes you’ll look at the person you love and feel nothing but rage. Despite it all, Calhoun contends, staying married is easy: just don’t get divorced.

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give offers bracing straight talk to the newly married and honors those who have weathered the storm. This exploration of modern marriage is at once wise and entertaining, a work of unexpected candor and literary grace [5].

Favorite Quote:

“By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole. To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being — what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.”  

My Reaction:

This is an excellent read for everything you could expect: open scrupulousness about the absolute lovely pieces of marriage and still, the completely demanding parts, too. In a series of short essays, Calhoun offers perspectives from her own experiences of marriage to give it a real, fair assessment. I appreciated this book because it did not deny the value of marriage, nor did it present the often “fluffy” versions of what marriage is built to be. She struck a beautiful balance; conveying new conceptions of what marriage can be, and what it is. The “toasts” present what we should be talking about when it comes to the institution, and how we can change the nature of these relationships to meet the reality of commitment.

I kept turning the pages because honestly, now, in my late-twenties, marriage is redeeming itself – slowly, but surely. For so many years, coming from a legacy of divorce, I didn’t believe that marriage was something I could honestly consider. I thought it would be the wrong choice for me, that I didn’t have anything to offer. Since coming out, everything has changed. There’s a place for it – an honest, real place. I want more of that. I don’t want the fairytale. That’s what Calhoun offers in her essays. They are bold, genuine, and sassy. That’s a combination I can really go for.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13210.Wouldn_t_Take_Nothing_for_My_Journey_Now

[2] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31845516-love-warrior?from_search=true

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28587957-small-great-things?from_search=true

[4] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27840585-present-over-perfect?ac=1&from_search=true

[5] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32051305-wedding-toasts-i-ll-never-give?ac=1&from_search=true

Pride: A Celebration of Love.

As a kid, I was obsessed with Lucky Charms, saving each of those colorfully flamboyant, sugar-filled marshmallow pieces until the very end of my cereal consumption. I would eat the toasted oat pieces first, then slurp the milk, and lastly, like a raving encore at the end of a galvanizing concert, eat the marshmallows into a large, heaping spoonful of delight. I liked Lucky Charms because they were tasty and certainly, “magically delicious.”

When dad dropped me off for day care – and I was maybe 4, 5 years old – we would eat bowls of cereal for breakfast. Most of the other kids would stop after 1 bowl. But you could be certain, if Lucky Charms was the cereal of the day I would be back, once, twice, you never know. Yes, rainbows, from the start of my life were important – and not just because of my breakfast choices.

During my summers, off from school, I spent most of my waking moments outside. When you grow up in Colorado, that’s just how that goes. I would ferociously bike around the neighborhood with my brother, chasing rabbits, catching speed, and pursuing adventure. We would come home right before day became night and encounter the beauty of a sky speckled with hues of blood orange and royal blue. On providential days, there would be a rainbow, too.

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I learned about rainbows when I started going to church. I was a late-bloomer in the Christian world, not having started regular church attendance until I was in high school. When I received my first Bible, I voraciously read parables, stories, and narratives of wisdom to build the budding foundation of my faith. I read about Noah, as new Christians often do, and noticed very specifically the presence of a rainbow. In Genesis 9:17, God tells Noah,

“Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.” (NLV).

 A covenant? With all creatures on earth? Cool. That’s great.

This wasn’t just any covenant either – this promise from God to Noah represented the peace that God brings to, for, and with humanity. I didn’t know it then, but this was a pretty damn big deal.

As it turns out, a rainbow is never just a rainbow.

Every year, when June rolls around, we celebrate “Pride Month” and rainbow flags (also known as the gay pride flag or the LGBT pride flag) pop all over town, and all over the country. June was selected to be LGBT Pride Month because the Stonewall Riots (Manhattan, NY) ended in June of 1969, launching a series of gatherings, parties, and concerts to celebrate the community. It was a tipping point for the growth and visibility of the LGBT movement.

On street corners, in office buildings, and on the front stoops of bungalow homes during Pride Month, you can find these flags. In recent years, big corporate companies re-brand for the celebrations too, integrating these vibrant colors into their existing logos in solidarity. We’re with you. That’s the message and that’s the point.

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Example of LGBT-focused Corporate Branding: Target.

But, what does this, the rainbow flag, actually mean?

The flag and the colors themselves have shifted over the years, especially as the design as undergone revisions and changes; sometimes the changes have been motivated by fabric colors locally available, other times it’s been a larger cultural shift, like this year, with the addition of black and brown to the flag, pointing to the necessary unity for LGBT people and people of color. Most typically, the flag now carries six stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

The original flag, designed in 1978 by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, held eight colors, each with its own symbolism. Baker said as recently as 2015, “…we needed something to express our joy, our beauty, our power. And the rainbow did that.”

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These colors are not unfamiliar or foreign to me; I saw heaping amounts of glitter, sparkles, and unicorns at Denver Pride last year – in 2016. I was learning about what the colors and vibrancy meant; however, I still felt distant from the freedom they offered. By the dozens, people danced along Colfax Avenue recklessly and without abandon, cheering as loud as their voices would allow, and waving bandanas unceasingly in a sign of harmony and togetherness. I was marching with the Colorado Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group, and these scenes of joy and love moved me – but again, I felt disconnected from it. Internally, I was battling with what I knew to be true (I am gay) and the outward expression of my life (let’s not tell anyone about this). I could see the life I wanted, but like grasping for something just far enough away, I was not sure I would be able to ever hold on to it.

I signed up to march in the Pride parade because of the June 12, 2016 shooting at Pulse. This was a sacred time for the LGBT community and upon learning of what had happened at the Orlando nightclub, I knew that it was incredibly important to attend, stand with, and be present to this celebration of inclusion. Hate, I felt strongly, would not have the last word. I wanted to be present to a place that says, “Yes! We are here. We are together.”

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Denver Pride, 2016.

I’ve read somewhere that on average, a person who happens to be gay “comes out” seven times. You come out to yourself – again, again, and again, and still, again. Then, when you can accept this, you begin to offer this very vulnerable part of yourself to others.

“Coming out” is both powerfully beautifully and oddly strange.

The beauty of coming out is allowing yourself to be known, and for the other, to affirm the love that pulses within us.

The sad part of coming out is that it often is such a tumultuous process. Never in my life have I had to share something so intimate with other people, hoping earnestly that I would get the stamp of approval. Can you imagine doing this to every single person you know? It’s lovely. But, let it be known, it’s absolutely exhausting.

Have you ever “come out” because you have a large inheritance? Have you ever “come out” because you eat fish, not beef? Have you ever “come out” because you are brown-haired, not blonde?

Why, I often wonder, have we stuck LGBT peoples with the task of having to work so hard to normalize what has been birthed inside of them? It’s complicated, too, because unlike race, or even ethnicity, a person’s sexuality can be relatively hidden. I can’t hide that I am a white woman. But, gay? I could hide that if I desired. And, I have. And, I did.

Pride nullifies this process entirely.

Pride doesn’t say that you are “OK” – Pride says you are loved. Pride puts the excruciating process of judgment on the shelf and says, rest. Laugh. Love. Pride reminds many that they are not alone.

I didn’t “get” Pride until I finally came out (again). All along, I’ve known this truth about me. But, there is a very important distinction between “being gay” and “choosing to be who you are.” People remain stuck in the closet of isolation, trapped by fear and shame, and never (literally, and sadly, never) live openly.

I was more at rest than I have, perhaps, ever, been when I attended Denver Pride this year, in 2017. I was not hiding anymore or trying to change my own mind about who I was. I am living my life, outwardly, driven by the most real pieces of who I am. The energy and vivacity of Pride reminded me that I, like many others, had made it. I chose freedom. I chose life.

Chelsea and I arrived late, dropping glitter from our matching tutu outfits everywhere we walked. I wore my favorite unicorn shirt and clapped, laughed, and shouted as representatives from churches, businesses, groups, organizations, and everyone in between walked by. We ate popsicles and took photographs. We hung out with our friends in the shade. We visited what felt like hundreds of booths, all with rainbow gay echoing the same message: love.

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Denver Pride, 2017.

Pride, at its core, is a celebration of love.

Towards the end, as the music waned and the sun started to burn ever so slightly on my skin, I took a small, private moment with God to say, “thank you.” I was inexpressibly grateful, filled to the top of my cup because finally, Pride was something I could step into and know.

Pride was more than flashy celebrations on blocked black-tar streets around the world. Pride was more than the pomp and circumstance of love is love is love. It’s all those things, of course, but Pride is special because it is a sacred time of the year when all of us in the LGBT community can remember, reflect, and be driven forward with the conscious reality that we matter, we are loved, and we can be ourselves. Pride acts as a marker against hate; freedom for us, liberation for all, it’s bound up in the ability to think differently, and to do things differently, too. I’m certainly not perfect. I have more work to do – for myself and others. Pride tells us to “go” – to not stop – and to push forward even when it feels like systems, world views, or leaders want otherwise.

Pride is a place where God can enter and say, “Yes, YOU! YOU! You are strong enough.”

I accept.

I am home – and that’s why Pride is so special, and that’s what it means to me.

Queen of Katwe

A not-so-secret secret: I’m a total sucker for biographical sports dramas. Especially when they showcase the triumph of an underdog.

Case and point? During my senior season of field hockey at Hendrix, each player on the team wrote an inspirational quote of their choosing on a large piece of tape. Then, almost ceremoniously, each of us shared our selected pieces of wisdom and pasted the piece of tape on the flat-side of our sticks. We did this so that in moments requiring rugged grittiness – like in the last quarter of the game, in overtime, or in the final sprint for a goal – would have some kind of tangible marker for inspiration.

With little hesitation, I used a quote from Coach Bill Yoast in Remember the Titans: Leave no doubt!”

Remember the Titans – and films like it – are my jam.

So, earlier this summer, when I first saw the trailer for Queen of Katwe, to no surprise, I immediately put the release date in my google calendar. Lupita Nyong’o? Chess? Uganda? I’m so there.

With salted popcorn in hand, I saw Queen of Katwe on Monday and it was hardly what I expected it to be. Certainly, the story-line included soft spots about the rise of Phiona Mutesi’s chess game, queuing all the inspirational music and all the cheers. Throughout the story, chess is used as a larger metaphor for life. One of the Phion’as team members, when teaching Phiona how to play, says, “…in chess, the small one can become the big one.”

However, unlike a lot of Disney (or sports) films, the deepening of the story wasn’t hinged upon the sport and the victor’s success.

In actuality, the film showcased Phiona – a rising Chess champion from a poor community, Katwe, in Uganda – and the plethora of moving parts in her life. True to many communities in East Africa, the life of an individual is never just their own. Phiona’s success became her communities’ success, too. On the flip-side, her and her families’ struggles, at times, seemed insurmountable.

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I ached for the determination of Phiona’s mother, Harriet, as she struggled to find any kind of income for the family. When Phiona’s brother is in an accident, the family is soon after forced into eviction from their home. Scenes show the family walking the roads, homeless, and it’s impossible to ignore the injustices that people face every, single day. As Phiona’s story unfolds and she begins to attend chess sessions, Phiona’s sister leaves her family so that she can pursue a relationship with a man that will take care of her – until she gets pregnant. The particular challenges of being a woman, too, come to light, and it’s hard to process and fully capture in the allotted time.

Frankly, for the duration of the 2-hour show, I was a mess. Dabbing my eyes with a handful of tissues, I hadn’t quite expected the emotional, visceral reaction I had.

You see, by writing and producing a movie that focused not only a sports champion, but the tensions of their background, home life, and family, larger issues like poverty, racism, and opportunity come to the fore-front. That’s a really, really important thing to be done.

There are poignant moments, like when Phiona’s mom, Harriet, slowly acquiesces to the idea that her daughter has a chance for success. To show her support, she sells valuable fabric that she kept from her own mother so her daughter can purchase petrol for reading chess books with light when night arrives.

Another riveting scene occurs when a notorious East African rain storm devastates Phiona’s home. They have no roof and water rushes in, pulling the soil, dirt, and their belongings together like an after-thought.

The director of the film, Mira Nair, is an Indian-American woman (living part-time in Uganda) who decided to adapt the film after making a documentary about Robert Katende, Phiona’s chess coach and sports director for a local ministry. I found her portrayal of Katwe intriguing because it was neither denigrating nor romantic. Refreshing, considering Africa-focused media tends to err on one side or the other.

Sure, sports movies present some kind of climatic issue, but typically, it’s resolvable. In Queen of Katwe, though, the issues raised are pressing issues of justice. They don’t have easy answers, and yet, it’s incredibly important to consider, think about, and move to discussion and action by them.

I thought of my girls in Rwanda, who struggle frequently with the notion of where to be.

Robert Katende: [to Phiona] Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong. You belong where you believe you belong. Where is that for you?

Should the girls pursue their academics with all their rigor, hoping to find a way to university? Or, do they return home to take care of their family?

Sometimes, these are the kinds of choices that are mutually exclusive, even when they shouldn’t be.

Brokenness isn’t just over there, though. Injustice has a lot of different faces. We can’t assume that viewing injustice (say, extreme poverty, for example) in Queen of Katwe is non-existent in our “world.”

Our “world” might instead be wracked with income inequity, systemic racism, or limitations on civic freedoms.It might be a wrong-doing from a neighbor. A difficulty in your family.

What I liked best about Queen of Katwe was its unapologetic look at the complications of families, success, mobility, and hope.

Additionally, it re-calibrated my heart, back again to what is important in life. I think we all need a steady reminder of this from time to time.

Check out the movie, when you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Everyone Gets a Rose

Six years ago, in preparing to return home after a semester abroad in Ghana, I found myself weary-eyed and zombie-like. I was packing up my belongings and bags in my dormitory room at the international dormitory and wasn’t quite ready to leave. And so, to bring along a little energy and a small spark of Ghanaian culture, I chose to wear a Kente-cloth dress for the flight back to the United States. Timely, as I was randomly upgraded to first class for the 13-hour flight from London to Denver. I promptly sipped unlimited mimosas and stretched my legs on a move-able bed, complete with a down-comforter.

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Reppin’ Kente cloth on the flight with Rachel. Accra, Ghana, May 2010

Kente is significant; it’s a silk and cotton based cloth native to the Ashanti region of Ghana. Various colors carry different symbols, and the cloth is so intricate that it is often woven together piece by piece. It’s typically a “loud” and vibrant textile; one of the most popular African-based designs in the world.

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Since leaving Ghana, this particular Kente-printed dress has been with me through college celebrations, weddings, the Peace Corps, travel around the U.S., and most recently, while at a casting call for the upcoming season of ABC’s The Bachelor.

Yes, I tried out for The Bachelor. In my African-print dress.

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For years, I have– usually in jest – told my friends that I would boldly audition for a spot on the show if producers should come to Denver in search for the next contestant. Apparently, the show sends a crew to Denver quite regularly, but it so happens that I’m often gallivanting somewhere else outside of Denver, anyway.

But this summer? They came. I was here. As a firm believer in living life with a posture of “why not?” and with a strong nudge of encouragement from Rachel, I completed the 10-page application and agreed to show up for the face-to-face interviews and auditions.

First, let’s talk about that application. If you are curious, you can find a copy of it here.

The Application

The questions span about 6 of those 10 pages; contractual obligations are around 4, 5, or 6 more additional pages of signing. Essentially, you are signing your rights away to the show. Seriously. If the producers want to take the show in a certain direction, they can. If they want you to “play” a certain kind of character, that will ultimately be at their discretion. And all liability is on you.

The actual questions are both expected and unexpected. You fill in answers about your hometown, siblings, and the reasons you are seeking marriage. You are also inclined to answer questions about your favorite alcoholic beverage (red wine), the reason you like that particular beverage (it’s the ultimate truth serum), and why your serious relationships have ended (distance).

In answering these questions, I knew I would have to stand out in an “alternative” way. I am not a blonde-bombshell, I don’t have a modeling career, and let’s be real, I’m kind of quirky, happy-go-lucky, and relatively down-to-earth lady. I decided to push hard on the “Africa” angle in my life – thus the reason I was adorned in African fabric. In answering questions about my proudest accomplishment, I answered “completing the U.S. Peace Corps” and when explaining my “ideal mate” I emphasized my desire to find someone who had an equally impassioned interest in helping others, learning about the world, and sharing cultures. It was cheesy. But, my pitch was quite simple: “The Bachelor has never seen a woman like me before.”

Wearing my Kente dress with pride and gusto, I marched into the Hard Rock Café for the casting call 3 hours early. Literally, I did march because I was wearing my leather cowboy boots and my black backpack to carry my computer. I meant business. Only one other girl had shown up and ABC had not yet started the “que” line for the audition. With kindness, Hard Rock Café staff allowed us to sit down near the bar as we waited for the line to get organized and the process to begin.

Just as quickly, I popped out my computer to add remaining edits for a grant application due the following day. I chugged away on my computer, fielding questions from fellow contestants about the nature of my work.

“So, um, where is your bakery?”

“Oh! Africa….”

“Oh Rwanda! Is that in Asia?”

The Que Line

When I was able to finish my final touches on the grant application, I figured it would be best to truly “take in” the experience. I put my computer in my backpack and followed the girls who had arrived outside to begin forming the line. I was the second girl up. This has to bode well for my luck – right?

I began to get to know the women around me.

The first woman in line – at the very front – had invested hundreds of dollars to prepare for the audition. With new make-up, a nail job, waxed eyebrows, and a new outfit, she was determined. Interspered in our conversation, she spoke with various contacts in Puerto Rico. Loudly she proclaimed into the phone, “If I don’t get on this show then I’m done! I’m moving to Puerto Rico and that’s just that.” Like I said, people are heavily invested.

A few girls over, I chatted with a girl who has made a career of trying out for reality shows. Most recently, she had become a finalist on America’s Next Top Model, but was left out during a final cut. In her perfectly manicured right hand, she held a hot pink water bottle. In the other, she carried a thick portfolio of photographs to showcase during her interview. Woah, I thought to myself, I am so not prepared for this.

I especially appreciated the cat-calls, questions, stares, and odd-looks from Denver pedestrians. The Hard Rock Café sits on the corner of 16th Street Mall, and so weekly foot traffic is heavy. With a line full of long-legged pretty ladies, you can imagine the types of words and sounds were receiving. Ick.

Because I was early, however, the line didn’t get much longer until later. While I stood outside, only around 50-60 girls waited with me. When I finished the entire process, though, numbers had swelled to at least 200.

The Photographs

Once ABC finished their set-up, a representative came out to welcome us to the audition! It was starting – officially. We were led in through the double doors like a herd of cows, frantically waiting to receive our special Bachelor pen.

Once received, you review your initial application for one final glance and receive a white board in which you write your full name. This white board is used during your head – and body shots. Since I was in the top portion of the line of women, I had my photographs done quickly. Remembering my persona of “nice do-gooder,” I smiled with approximately 0.1% sex appeal. Mostly, I tried to look cute, clean, and yet still a bit gregarious, especially with the style of my outfit. The photographer took a full shot of my head, a couple of profile perspectives, and of course, the entire body. It was strange.

The Camera Interview

The final point of contact during a casting call between the show and individuals trying out is the screen test. Pulled into a room with at least 5 different camera set-ups, each candidate enters the room, is “mic’d” up, and provided a handful of questions to answer while being filmed. The idea is to get a sense for how a person looks, acts, and feels on camera. I sat down and could hardly get the mic around my neck. Be cool, I told myself, be cool.

The fluorescent camera lights were dizzying at first, but I got accommodated quickly. Quick, witty, adorable. The questions started right away:

“What is your name?”

“Heather Newell.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m a 303-girl; I’m from right here in Denver, Colorado!”

“Are you married?”

“No, I’m not married.”

“Are you divorced?”

“No, I’m not divorced, but many people in my family have experienced divorce, which is one of the reasons I am trying out for the show! Maybe TV is a way to break the cycle…?”

“How long was your longest relationship?”

“Realistically, the relationship lasted nearly a year, but continued for a bit after we weren’t able to be together.”

“Why did that relationship end?”

“Distance. My heart was broken because it was difficult to find closure when I so badly wanted it to work.”

“What do you like to do in your free time?”

“So, outside of being active, I love other cultures. I thrive in other cultures. So, I spend a lot of time with Rwandans in the Denver community, as well as Denver citizens who have come from other countries. I think it’s important to share our spaces and time so we can build more understanding in the world.  Oh. And um, rollerblading. I really like rollerblading too.”

“Okay, great, thanks Heather. If you make it to the next round in Los Angeles, you will hear from us by mid-July.”

“So, um, if I don’t hear from you at all, I can assume that I didn’t make the cut?”

“That’s correct.”

“Okay, great. Thank you so much!”

I grabbed my backpack, Bachelor pen, and made my way to the exit. The line for auditions now circled around the restaurant. Fumes of hairspray and perfume filled my nostrils. Woah. It was time to go home.

Roses for All

Now that it’s past mid-July, I am fairly confident I did not make it to the next round of The Bachelor. And hey! That’s okay. I wasn’t really trying out with that kind of expectation. I was interested, curious, and excited to have a different perspective into one of America’s most popular cultural phenomenons.

Because I’m a pretty open and ardent feminist, I must confess: it felt kind of hypocritical even showing up for the audition to the show in the first place. I mean, in what kind of world does it even make sense to have one person moving through men or women like soda pop cans in a pack? Only, it’s with roses. It is weird. And, how could I be okay with being judged, solely based on my looks?

I definitely know I’m not alone because a simple ‘google’ search will provide dozens of articles on “7 Reasons it’s Okay to be a Feminist and Watch the Bachelor.”

The struggle of enthusiastically promoting the advancement of women and simultaneously enjoying The Bachelor series is real.

I suppose in many ways, I’m curious, wanting deeply to understand the zealous drive to watch this show every week. Is the ridiculousness so bad that it’s hard to walk away? Is it simply a great excuse for 1 – or 2 – glasses of red wine? Is it actually kind of interesting to see what happens? Does it provide the kind of escape a woman needs after a long day at work?

Ultimately, I think what I like most about The Bachelor is that it’s a fun topic to chat about with my friends. We’ve had more conversations about pro-feminism because of this show. We’ve laughed, we’ve been in shock, and also, we can appreciate the great parodies that are produced on SNL (Saturday Night Live) (“Bland Man” is my favorite!) and the like.

And more than that, when I attended the auditions this summer, I realized that I hadn’t felt insecure about who I am at all during the whole process. This surprised me. You would think a room full of 200 women with perfectly bronzed legs, sculpted arms, and well-done make-up would have instigated a kind of nagging uncertainty and incapability. Instead, I enjoyed attending the casting call because it made me proud to be me. I auditioned as a proudly-weird girl who has a particular passion for Rwanda, loves eating burritos, and will make friends with anyone. It didn’t matter. I came as I am.

Maybe we should all give ourselves a little more credit – Bachelor or not – and recognize that we don’t need a man, or a show, or society to validate who we are. It can really just come from yourself. Just be sure to wear a Kente dress to keep it interesting.

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