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.

“Created in the Image of God”

I recently attended my first training as a participant in the Colorado chapter of SURJ (Stand Up for Racial Injustice). I caught myself glancing around the room, pondering, what has brought people here?

Inevitably, we have to ask ourselves the same question; that is, why do we do what we do?

Questions like this become more important when we flip on the news and hatred is spewing from the headlines. Urgency to find significance in our daily lives is pivotal when our neighborhoods and communities grow tense because we aren’t sure which side of the line to stand. Tensions wedge us a part; still, my deepest hope is that in fact, they would drive us together.

In these times, we need voices of hope.

I am honored and blessed enough to have a best friend who is one of those voices.

Michelle Ashley, a current seminarian in pursuit of her Master’s in Divinity at Boston University, as well as a lover of tea, community, and more recently, Zumba, recently shared a sermon that she gave at her current church in Kingwood, Texas. She sent the audio and written text to me, and so I spent one morning last week reading and listening to her words, insights, and scriptural teachings to begin my day.

Thought-provoking, genuine, passionate, and bold, I knew this message was not simply something “good to hear” but in fact, something needed. I am thankful to share this message – not only in applause for Michelle’s insights – but for what God has done, continues to do, and will do to redeem His people. The gospel never, ever grows old. And that will incite more hope than ever imagined.

*

INTRODUCTION

Created in the image of God. The subject almost seems trite in the wake of the violence in our country and world these past couple of weeks. It’s the kind of phrase we might find printed in calligraphy on a coffee cup or pinned between pictures of flowers on Pinterest. In fact, I Instagrammed a picture of the phrase just a few weeks ago as I began to think about this sermon. It was…cute…but that’s about it.

ANCIENT ITCH

For men and women in the world in which Genesis 1 was written, there was no cute “created in the image of God” paraphernalia. There was—for those ancient near east humans—only one person in all of society created in God’s image: the king. The king was representative of the gods and ruled on their behalf.[1] The king had a coffee cup that said, “I and only I am created in the image of God #sorrynotsorry.”

Bible scholars know that Genesis 1, in particular, was written in the context of a community of exiles. They’d been exiled—by the king. So, that made them not only far from God, but also rejected and despised by God. If the King looked like the gods, the first readers of Genesis 1 looked like stray coffee grounds in the bottom of the king’s mug.

CONTEMPORARY ITCH

Here in America, of course, the Divine Right of Kings isn’t a problem. We declared our independence from that a long time ago.

Instead, we have the Divine Right of Straight, White Males.

I want to be clear that, when I say “divine right of straight, white males” what I am talking about more often than not falls under the category of social sin, rather than personal sin. (Not always, but more often than not.) I am talking about the ways in which good people allow our institutions and our social structures do our sinning for us[2]—a lot of the time without even realizing it. Whereas an example of a personal sin is me stealing $20 from the offering plate after church; an example of a social sin is an entire clothing industry built on cheap, outsourced labor to adults and children working in inhumane conditions. The uncomfortable part is that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to confront both.

Our society is ordered, both historically and systematically, in such a way that privileges certain types of people over others.

This doesn’t mean that people who are straight, people who are white, and people who are male never suffer injustice or hardship or pain. The last thing I want you to hear this morning is that the pain and suffering in your life is invalid. It is valid. We are a people who have a God who hears our cries—every last one of them.

One thing I’ve learned since becoming a seminary student in a multi-racial context and making friends with people who are very similar to me in all but skin color is that I don’t often notice my privileges because they don’t come in the form of things I gain, but rather in the form of injustices I am spared[3]—because society says I don’t look like a thief, I don’t look like a terrorist.

Sometimes I call my privileges blessings, but that word has started to leave a bitter taste in my mouth when I realize that sometimes I’m ascribing God’s benevolence to the ways in which I profit from my brothers and sisters being oppressed. It’s not a blessing if someone else has to lose in order for me to win.

When I was in college, I spent a summer interning at the Star of Hope Emergency Homeless Shelter for Women and Children in downtown Houston. The shelter provides daycare for the children during the day so that their parents can look for jobs and receive training and counseling. I worked in the classroom of 8-12 year old children of homeless families. I had done some youth and kids work in the past, but I had never encountered anything remotely close to the emotional and behavioral problems that we experienced on an hourly basis in that classroom.  I loved them; they were amazing kids; but they had unfairly seen a lot in their lives, and most of them—for good reason—did not respond well to my “skinny little white girl from Kingwood” authority. Maybe a month after I finished my internship, I decided to go back to Star of Hope for a visit, to see my old classroom, to see if any of my kids were still there. It wasn’t a super long visit, there were a few old faces in my classroom but mostly new—that’s the nature of an emergency shelter.

And this is what happened: when I left that afternoon, I was remembering all the struggles of working in that environment, wondering how the new kids were behaving, I thought to myself “those two new kids sitting at that table in the corner looked like really good kids—I bet they will be really sweet.”

Here’s the problem: I didn’t know those two children. So then I had to ask myself why I thought they looked like “good kids.”

They were the only two white kids in the room.

That summer I learned that saying “I’m not racist” isn’t good enough. I am racist. Racism is like the air we breathe.

We say that we believe everyone is created in God’s image, but our actions as a society speak otherwise.

We’re all created in God’s image, but you should only have good healthcare if you can afford to pay for it.

We’re all created in God’s image, it just so happens that some of us are enslaved so that others of us can wear nice clothing brands.

We’re all created in God’s image, it’s just that some of us—because of the color of our skin—are statistically more likely to be poor, incarcerated, uneducated, homeless, or, if those things don’t get us, murdered.

The belief system of our society is really not that far from the belief system of the Genesis 1 society.

ANCIENT SCRATCH

Through Genesis 1, the God of Israel (our God!) offers an alternative story where humankind together—not as individuals, but together—1) bears God’s image, 2) shares God’s power[4], and 3) becomes God’s vehicle of blessing to the world[5].

1) Bears God’s Image

Genesis 1:26 says: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness….’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

In Genesis 1:1-25, God is singular. It is only when God begins creating humans that God starts speaking about Godself in the plural: “Let us make…”

This text isn’t talking about one, individual person being created in God’s image—

The Hebrew word used here, “adam” (Adam), means “humanity.”

It’s talking about all of us, together—and ONLY together—being formed in the image of our Creator. [6] I can’t bear God’s entire image on my own—I need other people, people who don’t look like me, people who don’t come from the place where I come from, people who speak different languages and eat other types of food and sing other types of songs. Together we bear the image of God.

It was a little unnerving for me when I took my first religious studies class in college and learned that there were lots of creation stories circulating in the world at the time when Genesis was came on the scene. It wasn’t that novel of a concept for a group of people to have a story about where life came from.

There were at least three other creation stories that were widely dispersed in the ancient near east. Among them, Genesis 1 stands out for many reasons, and this is one of them: in the other creation stories, humans are created out of the gods warring against each other. The gods fight, and their fighting leads to creating lesser beings in order to serve them in some way. It’s quite the opposite in Genesis 1, where we find the singular and yet plural Trinitarian God—in community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creating humanity and pronouncing them “good”…and then resting to enjoy it!

Genesis 1 says, “THIS God is different.” THIS God offers an alternative way of being human. Do you want in? Welcome: everyone is welcome.

Humankind together bears God’s image.

2) Humanity Shares God’s Power

The second radically counter-cultural message of this passage is that the God of Genesis 1 is a God who shares God’s power with humanity.

Verse 27 says: “…fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

In the other ancient near east creation stories, not only did the gods create humanity out of their own fighting, but they created humans in order to do their work for them—so that they could spend more time boosting their following on Twitter, or whatever it was gods did back then for fun. Humans existed to serve the gods. There was strictly no power-sharing going on.

The Genesis 1 God gives us dominion. Dominion doesn’t mean “be like the king with the coffee cup that says #sorrynotsorry.” Dominion means God sharing God’s power with us, so that we can have the power to emulate all this good work God’s been doing. It means God trusts us!

Being created in the image of a power sharing God means that our DNA is originally designed to share power—not hoard it.

This is, again, an alternative way of being human.

3) Humanity Becomes God’s Vehicle of Blessing to the World

The third game-changing message of Genesis 1:26-31 is that humanity becomes God’s vehicle of blessing to the world.

Verse 27 says: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply….’”

When God blesses humanity, this is not the sort of blessing that really just means: “Whew! I am so glad that I got dealt a better hand than you did.” Sometimes people say “God bless America.” God says: I bless the whole world: Americans, Israelis, Palestinians, Iraqis, Turks, French, Syrians, Cubans, North Koreans, South Koreans—all of them!

The first time God blesses humanity, not only does EVERYONE get blessed, but that blessing is also fundamentally based upon unity in difference. Male and female. Be fruitful and multiply. Unity in difference. Humanity is blessed when we unify through our differences.

One of my favorite authors, Shane Claiborne, tells this story of when he was working with Mother Theresa in Calcutta, India[7]. He says that they would throw street parties for kids that were beggars on the streets, and one day it was the birthday of one of the kids Shane had grown really close to. It was about 100 degrees, and he was thinking, “What should I get him for his birthday?” And he thought: “What better than an ice cream cone?”

So Shane gets this kid an ice cream and takes it to him. He says that he really had no idea if the boy had ever had ice cream before, because he just stared at it and shook with excitement. And then the boy’s instinct was that, “This is too good to keep to myself.” So he immediately yells to the other kids, “We’ve got ice cream! Everybody gets a lick.” He lines them up and goes down the line saying, “Your turn. Your turn.” Finally, he gets full circle back to Shane and he says, “Shane, you get a lick too.”

This is a kid who knows what it means to be God’s vehicle of blessing to the world.

CONTEMPORARY SCRATCH

What does it look like to be human beings who, together, bear the image of God, share God’s power, and become God’s vehicle of blessing to the world?

Well, there’s this guy named Jesus…. (This is what historians think he might have looked like.)

Not only did he bear God’s image, he was God.

Not only did he share God’s power, but he gave out double portions to the poor and the oppressed.

Not only was he a vehicle of God’s blessing to the world, but he lived, died, and rose again so that we—all of us—“might be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood, …one in ministry to all the world.”[8]

[1] “Genesis 1:1-2:3 Commentary,” New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 345

[2] This idea comes from a quote from South African pastor and bishop Peter Storey, found in Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, page 361.

[3] This idea comes from “White Boy Privilege” by Royce Mann, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/13/us/teen-slam-poet-white-privilege-hln/

[4] “Genesis 1:1-2:3 Commentary,” New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 346

[5] Walter Brueggemann, “A Theology of Blessing,” Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 36-37

[6] “Genesis,” Dr. Roy Heller, Lecture at Southern Methodist University, Houston-Galveston Campus, 30 August 2014

[7] https://convergemagazine.com/radical-discipleship-3006/

[8] Language taken from “United Methodist Service of Word and Table I”: http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-service-of-word-and-table-i-and-introductions-to-the-other-forms

solidarity

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

With every headline of violence, bombs and gunshots; with each story of continued injustice; with repeated syllables of hateful rhetoric, my heart breaks all over again.

Last month, on a visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to touch the glass that protects the foundational documents of our country: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. My fingerprints left a stain and smudge; layered over thousands of other visitors who did the very same thing.

I peered closely in the dim lighting to catch the words: all men are created equal

Sighing heavily, I wonder what power our words still have.

We hang our hats on freedom, and yet can’t swallow the idea of equality.

We raise the colors of red, white, and blue but become squeamish when we talk about the reality that #blacklivesmatter.

Diversity is welcome – but only if we can put a quota on categories and markers – as if a “token” individual for a given race is the solution to acknowledging the prevalence of power structures built and ingrained into the fabrics of our systems.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, National Mall, Washington D.C. 2016

Tears fall heavy tonight as I remember the simultaneous power and confusion I felt when I saw the documents that laid the so-called “foundations” of our country. How have we gotten so far off track?

Tears come unceasingly as I think about the families of people who have died – throughout our history – because of who they are.

I cry because though slavery has ended we are perpetuating slavery by another name.

We are killing each other.

I’ve held no gun, but there is blood on my hands.

For any injustice I have left unsaid; for times I have been a recipient of white privilege without even the smallest inkling of recognition; and for the assumptions I have at times built in my own mind about who people are because of the identities they carry –

I’m sorry.

My mom tells a story from when I was just 2 and visiting in the waiting room of a pediatric office. We walked inside and as we sat down, I looked across the way and saw another child, around my same age.

With glee, curiosity, and enthusiasm, I shouted to my mother,

“Look! A chocolate baby!”

I don’t tell this story because it’s endearing; I tell it because even as a young girl, I could see a difference and acknowledge it.

The difference isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s the reaction to it.

Blackness is something to be celebrated; a legacy of men, women, and groups of people advocating for necessary, mandated rights to be free in our country. It is an identity, one full of roots, history, and culture that is permeated with strength and the tradition of overcoming adversity. And yet, “to be black” in America today is not something I can even begin to wrestle with. “Black” is a socially-based racial term, used loosely and accepting the separation of equality that it brings.

Yes, uphold diversity, but do not diversify the value, respect, and civil rights that each person holds individually and collectively. 

It’s not as if being white isn’t an identity too, but understand that “being white” has been the norm for human societies since the beginning of existence. To “celebrate” whiteness is a lot like cheering for a proverbial NFL team that wins the Super bowl every, single year. It’s the norm and our society structure is built to support this.

As I grew into a young woman in my late teens and early 20’s, I would literally lose myself in books about social movements – especially the Civil Rights of the 50’s & 60’s. I cared far more about Rosa Parks than I ever did about the Spice Girls.

And when I began to become educated, not just in school, but in life and in my faith, I learned about the real oppression happening to other races outside of being “white.”

I saw it, I watched it, and I grew increasingly sickened by it.

To this day, Divine and I often talk about her skin color specifically; she was told on many occasions in her life that she was “ugly” because of her dark skin and that her beauty would never come from her physical appearance.

“To be white,” she once said to me while visiting her family in Rwanda, “is to hold many treasures and coins to life.”

When you hear something like that, you can’t help but examine your own fixed position in the world. You wonder, “why, why was I born like this?”

God has a plan, they say, and though we must live in the tension of not knowing everything, it’s true that we are in the places, times, and seasons for a reason.

So, why don’t we speak truth? Why don’t we take a stand? Why don’t we do the hard thing and look in the mirror, seeking our own bias and positions of power that we may have missed before?

I firmly, and resiliently believe that God does not stand for racial segregation, oppression, violence, separation, and hate. More than that, I think the same is true for anyone – for any living, breathing, human life. Yes, all lives matter, but we can’t acknowledge that fully until everyone – I mean, everyone – obtains real, living equality.

No more lip service. It’s time to stand in solidarity. It’s time to speak truth.

I have committed myself to retracting myself from this endowed, inherited legacy of privilege. It’s sticky. It’s messy. I don’t always know how to weave myself out.

But I will not stop.
I cannot stop.

Jesus’ greatest command was love. Our country’s greatest command was equality.

Can’t we strive for these together? Can we, together, recognize our brothers and sisters in the communities we live within?

Jesus,

Forgive our ignorance. Forgive our disunity. Forgive our separations.

I pray for peace. The kind of peace that trespasses all understanding – the kind of peace that can only heal these kinds of wounds.

Please, please, please come. Make this stop. Please. Make it stop.

We love you. I love you. 

Amen.

Dear All of Us.

Dear All of Us,

I’m not the first woman to write this, nor will I be the last. 

Foot to pavement, I gallop clumsily along Downing Street, passing the greasy, tantalizing taco truck and the curbs and corners of Denver’s Historic Five Points. Once a shotty part of town, sprinkles of gentrification are in the air, and the rumors are true: Five Points “has arrived.”  Hipsters drink chem-exed coffee for $5.00 on wood-brimmed porches while stark shadows of government-housed families live along the purple-flower-adorned paths across the street. We live in a weird, strange world.

With hints of spring enveloping my spirit (I’m literally obsessed with 75-degree weather), I skip onto my coffee date. I’m meeting an urban farmer to chat about bread and the universal potency it has for social change at Purple Door Coffee. Ahem, talk about hipster. (Takes one to know one..?)

The hum of passing vehicles drowns the stillness of the day’s clarity, but fails to be loud enough to drown the cat-call of whistling and hooting from the left side of the road.

“I like that…come over here baby…I’ll smack that ass…”

Whistles and laughs continue from this particular man and his pals, as their ford truck drives off abruptly. I look up, but forward. I’m annoyed because this is the fourth time this has happened this week. And, y’all, it’s Tuesday.

Flashes of those looks, those calls, those words, those whistles rush back uncontrollably into my mind. I don’t want to be angry. I really, really don’t. But, it’s hard not to feel bothered when other people have the power to not only speak at you a certain way – but look at you a certain way. It’s been happening since….well. Forever.

Last month, on a lone, run-down street in Montgomery, Alabama, a man in a beat-up white Taurus cut-off part of the road so that he could speak directly at me as he veered to the side. He slurred, “hey BAE…give me your number. I need to show you a good time…”

First things first. What the heck is BAE? In that moment, I knew that I’d either been living under a rock or worse yet, I’m getting old. Then, in reference to his demand, I was terrified to say “no.” Here I was – the privileged, strong, empowered woman that I am and I couldn’t stand up to this man boldly. I was afraid. I feared that perhaps he had something in his car. Worse yet, I was afraid he would get out of his car if I didn’t oblige. These unsaid, unspoken experiences of voicelessness are the roots of so many barriers for women around the world. Race, socioeconomic situation, and geography don’t necessarily make the voicelessness of women go away. It can happen to any of us.

I’m tired of this. I’m tired of holding high expectations of men, and too often being disappointed. I’m tired of watching women that I care about – all over the world – remain subjugated and without opportunity because “that’s what we do.”

The moment my world changed – perhaps the moment I became a “feminist” if you so wish to use that word – was when in one week I was made aware of a sexually abusive situation for a female student and two other female students being harassed by their father at home and yet another female student dropping out of school because the family’s son needed the allocated money for education – not her.

I’ve also had dear friends open up about rape; I’ve born witness to stories of disenfranchisement; an older family member recently discussed the oppression she felt when she was barred from having a job to support her family; and I’ve watched subservient expectations for women affect the leadership roles afforded to them. These might be extreme examples – but they aren’t uncommon. Voicelessness is an issue we face each day. We just might not name it because we’ve accepted this as normal.

This isn’t only a man/woman issue. It’s an human issue. As in – you. As in – me. All of us. There are far too many good men in the world for this to remain. Voicelessness requires the empowerment of women, certainly, but the support and advocacy of men too. It asks us to take a step back, to reflect on our own assumptions, and understand how our behaviors are affected.

God did create men and guess what? He created women too. Before that though, he created the context for humanity. The context for us to live together. If Jesus can value the least of these – why can’t we understand that all of his teachings point to loving God, loving others? Men, women – all of us. We are all uniquely created, designed to do inherently different things, but we do not have to place unequal value on this. We don’t have to let biological diversity create boundaries for social, political, and personal rights. We should all be able to speak. We should all be respected.

I’m not asking you to wave a flag of girl power. I’m asking for you to not say nasty things to me when I’m walking outside. I’m asking for you to see my heart – not only my sex. I’m asking for a recognition of the beautiful capabilities of both men and women.

Call me a feminist, call me a hippie, I don’t really care. But as I keep walking these streets I remain undeterred in my faith and in my hopes. It can be better than this.

It definitely can.

Love,

Me.