God just is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence.

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

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

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

Real question.

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

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

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

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

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

God just desires you – me – us.

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

God.

Thank you for today.

Thank you for bringing me home.

Thank you for the love I have in my life.

My hope is to steward this love well.

Where can I grow?

Where can I learn?

Where can I forgive?

Where can I hope?

Where can I give?

Where can I receive?

Where can I support?

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

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

I love you.

 Faith is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily complex.

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

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

IMG_7046.JPG

from, through, to

Last month, Our Bible App officially launched.

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.


 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1081

from   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

through

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

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

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

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

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

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

to

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Genesis 1:27

The Christian Closet

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

That’s one of my main mantras.

I couldn’t even consider it.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The closet hasn’t always been a thing.

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

My closet was a Christian closet.

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 3.26.27 PM

1 Corinthians 13

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

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

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

Who are we to stand in the way of that?

Who are we to construct deeper closets for deeper pain?

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

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

Now, let’s get to work.

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

hallelujah.

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

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

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

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

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

img_4749

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_4975

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Luke 2: 6-7

teeth-cleaning, life-giving, kind-of conversations.

Naturally, I was late for my bi-annual dentist appointment. Wrongly assuming I was some sort of a traffic god, I gave myself three minutes for a 15-minute drive. Slightly frazzled, I walked through doors that I have walked through since I was a little girl.

Dr. Long has been my dentist – well, forever.He’s a good one but it’s kind of always like this:

lalal

He gave me a retainer, helped me get my braces in tip-top shape, fixed a chipped tooth, and most times, cleaned my altogether decent teeth.

Escorted back by the hygienist, the tension was palpable due to my late arrival.

To mitigate this, I quickly commented, “I’m really sorry for being late.”

Nothing. Except for the whining of the ultrasonic cleaning instruments that dentists frequently use. What a pleasant background noise.

Great. Now the woman about to clean my teeth with a razor sharp tartar scraper is less than enthused because of my tardiness. Less than ideal.I really, I mean really, need to work on being on time to things.

Delicately but without much sympathy, she put the bib around my neck so that the spit, toothpaste, and general dentistry-grossness didn’t get all over my shirt.

She was still silent.

Quick! Say something! I couldn’t think of anything.

She nudged first, “So, how has your summer been?”

I paused. Answer with grace. Grace, kindness, grace, enthusiasm, and still more grace.

“Well, first of all, I can’t believe we are nearing the end. It’s kind of crazy. I’ve been working and doing some trips around the country. Trying to have as many outdoor adventures as I can. It’s been a good summer. What about you?”

She told me about her big move into a suburban community from her previous home of 16 years on a southeastern Colorado farm.

We bonded over the mutual experience of boxes and settling into a new neighborhood. She softened, and told me about her upcoming anniversary – her wedding one – honoring 15 years of marriage.

I’m always about asking the deeper, thicker, molasses-heavy kind of questions, so I posed, “Did you change a lot in those years? With your spouse, I mean?”

“Of course I did. You – we – always will. I got married late. 36. I had resigned to the idea that I had been blessed with the gift of singleness. Just when I gave it up, like a boomerang, it came back to me.”

“I guess you never know, right?”

“Exactly. That’s exactly it. I kind of think that the right thing will always happen. We just have to be willing to loosen our grip and you know. Let it go, I guess.”

With crumbs of plaque resting idly between the crevices of my teeth, I moved my tongue to ask the next question that had popped into my mind –

“Are you a Christian?”

Her eyebrows pointed downwards quickly in a bit of shock, disbelief, and uncertainty. Mostly, suspicion. What business did I – a patient – have asking in the middle of a cleaning appointment?

I asked because her spirit, sentiment, and largely, her vocabulary choice ruminated and dabbled slightly in Christianese you often hear in the church. The “gift of singleness” is an idea or phrase I’ve only heard in that context and so, frankly, I just had to ask. As usual, my curiosity got the best of me.

She laughed hesitantly and looked at me like I was no more than 10 years of age.

“Aww, you’re cute.”

Wait! No! I’m not about to whip out the bridge to Jesus or some device or tool to convert you to a particular brand of faith! Literally, she just struck me as someone who was probably deeply spiritual.

“So – let me tell you first. I don’t like that question – “

I interrupted her.

“It’s the wrong question. I don’t ask that of you because you have to fit in that label, necessarily, I ask because you seem like you know God. From the way you are talking. I should ask, something like, do you know God?

“I’m a seeker. I’ve been seeking my entire life. I go to church, I take part in bible studies, and I desperately want to know God. But, Christianity carries a lot of meaning that I’m not sure I can also carry that word with me. It’s full of hate, honestly, and that really scares me.”

Totally fair. And, she didn’t have to explain all of that, but she did. And honestly, I understood exactly what she meant. I got it.

“I struggle all the time. There’s “Christians” who live lives full of malice, judgment, and narrow-minded ideologies. There’s also “non-Christians” who are revolutionizing communities for positive movements. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that it’s essential to love what God loves. Faith is an active part of life. It’s more than what you label yourself. It’s how you are living.”

“Yes! That’s it!”

She softly, much more openly, laughed again and mumbled that I was “adorable.”

“How old are you again – 27?”

“Yes.”

“Oh for heavens sake! You are a baby. Just a baby. Are you dating anyone?”

“No, not right now.”

“Well, no rush. Like I said, it all happens for a reason. Don’t give up.”

I gargled, spit, and smiled. My front row of teeth were now sparkly clean – glowing from the removed coffee stains of the past year.

The best advice I have read is that everyone is our teacher. Thus, if everyone is our teacher, then certainly, that should (and can, and will) include dental hygienists.

My teeth are smoother, cleaner, and my love for authenticity in in the world is a little higher, too.

Own what you are. Share it. Listen to others. Even from a dentists’ chair.

I love living a life of faith because it presents an opportunity to reclaim the identities placed upon us. I’m a Christian. And I’m so, so ridiculously imperfect as a human. But, I also choose to believe God loves me exactly for who I am. He created me, after all. If you start believing this – really, fully, in your bones believing – than it becomes less scary to function in this world.

My authenticity was made good on a cross. Label or not – that cannot be taken.

Perhaps we can consider what it would look like to reclaim this word “Christianity” – so that instead of being seen for the hatred played out in the world, people would instead find a faith rooted and made right in love.

That’s what I think about when I sit in a dentist office. That’s why life is so cool.

IMG_4364

*

 

 

the urban-rural divide.

Yet you Lord, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

My imagination has frequently run wild as I’ve imagined God’s hand shaping all of us, like a potter perfecting their craft.

I say “all” because without a doubt in my mind, we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The pads of His fingers shape us, smooth us, even as muddy clay gets underneath His fingernails. We are formed, created, unlike anyone that has ever come before or will come after us.

For years, I think, this has given me a hidden joy as I have met and made friends with all kinds of people.

I think to myself, “what can this person teach me?” or more directly, “how did God make this person unique?” These questions have made me a bit gentler, a bit softer even, when a person annoys the hell out of me. Let’s be real, we’re human.

With the same, intense curiosity though, I’ve often also thought about the formation we experience through the lives we live. This references the old “nature vs. nurture” debate in some ways; to what extent are we formed by biology and also by the experiences we have as we age? We are born with a set of circumstances, and our lives ebb and flow differently, based on the culture we are surrounded by.

Culture is a large word – and there is a big chunk of it that is invisible to the human eye. About a year ago, I stumbled upon this chart that outlines the construction of our culture through the lense and degree of visibility.

Foundations of Culture

 

Genuinely, I think this could be a transformative tool in entering conversations this year – particularly in light of political strife, tension, and emotion.I happened to review this chart a couple of weeks ago as I was creating curriculum to use with refugee and immigrant populations in Denver. It also so happens, a week later, that I traveled to middle rural America – seemingly another country, far from my safe haven in Colorado.

FullSizeRender

For the first time this year, I saw “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” signs and I got a bit nervous. On the back of my car, I have a couple key bumper stickers, namely one from the Human Rights Campaign and the US Peace Corps. As I sped through vast grasslands and corn fields, I held the steering wheel tightly and thought, “oh gosh, they’re gonna think I’m some hippie.”

I was traveling to Oklahoma to visit my grandparents and honestly, it was a nice, lovely escape from the city. It also, metaphorically speaking, woke me up. 

As I settled into this small pan-handle community for a week, I took lots of walks thinking about what it would be like to live life here (or in any other rural community in the United States).

FullSizeRender_1

I began to consider the urban-rural divide. Lately, we’ve hyper-focused on the racial, economic, or political divide in the United States, but I would also argue that the urban-rural split is the root of these other fractured conversations and movements in our country. Frankly, living in an urban or rural area can be like living in another country altogether.

The American Communities Project has put together a map that illustrates the divisions of our country and alludes to the potential impact this has on education, age, and opportunities available to different populations.

I took a screenshot so you can get a sense of what they have tried to capture – communities ranging from “Aging Farmlands” to “Graying America” to “Evangelical Hubs.”

2016-08-14

Let’s consider the urban and rural divisions.

In the marked urban areas there are 153 counties with 140 million people.

In the designated rural areas there are 936 counties with 30 million people.

Y’all, that’s a difference of 110 million people!

And that’s not all.

Completion of higher-level education (say, a Bachelor’s degree) is at 35% in the suburbs; 32% in big cities; 20% in rural America; and finally, less than 15% in “working class country. (citation was found via a story by “Meet the Press”)

This results in a proverbial ceiling for higher-paying jobs, resulting in less investment by both the public and private sectors. Essentially, what happens, is that because of a lack in education completion and job creation, economic growth is stunted. Communities are slowly, but surely, dying. And, because they might be underrepresented and also less exposed to other parts of the country (and world), these populations are relatively isolated. This happens in Rwanda too – this definitely, is not just an American problem.

To be sure, this is not my world. It’s the opposite, actually. I live in Denver – perhaps the fastest growing city in the U.S.A. right now. I also went to one of Colorado’s best school districts as I grew up, could attend any college I wanted, and because of the high-attention to critical thinking emphasized by my small, liberal-arts college, I was able to explore and consider issues in the world that others may not have the opportunity to do.

I’m not better, I’m privileged. And there is a difference. Sometimes, it might take some time away from your own boundaries to understand this a bit more fully.

I have really struggled to understand the anger that some Americans feel right now, namely in their preference for Trump in this circus of a 2016 election. It seems many individuals and communities feel slighted in some way; namely in the relation to the economic circumstances of their lives – and honestly, I don’t blame them. So, in turn, this anger is funneled into the hope that a political giant (read: Trump) can “save” them. As I walked, drove, and spent time away from the confines of my American country (ahem, Denver), I can see how people might think differently than me. Look at the cultural chart again: the deepest parts of our formation come from where we live, what we do, and the development of our perspective of the world. And so, perhaps my push for civil rights and human dignity doesn’t strike a chord with other populations because they have been busy trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

It’s not an issue of being more “enlightened” than other people either– it’s just recognizing the opportunity (and yes, privilege you’ve had in your life). Perhaps, we should all step back, and take time to consider the kinds of privilege we carry around with us. We don’t have to always feel guilty, but we do have to be aware.

Because awareness, at its best, should propel us to action. Action means trying to understand each other and developing initiatives, policy, and movements that benefit Americans. All of us. Each and everyone. Not that top 1%. Not the middle class. Not the poor. Everybody, y’all.

I’m privileged in my skin color, in my education levels, in my economic status, in my job, in the family system I have always had, and in my place of birth.

However, because of other areas, like gender, or orientation, I have been slighted or under-represented.

We all have these dichotomies; areas of both privilege and lack thereof.

I’m not saying I agree with the rhetoric of a particular political candidate. What I’m saying, is that our political ties run deeper than just what appears on the surface.

Our country has big problems, y’all. They extend to the tensions we have in race, in money, and certainly, in the places that we live. Until we begin to re-work a system that does not work for all of us, I’m not sure how our country can keep moving forward.

I didn’t leave Oklahoma without hope, however. At the United Methodist church in town, I had the opportunity to talk with church leaders who cared deeply about their communities and how to represent them and serve them – in and out of their church. One woman, an immigrant from Mexico, talked through tears about her journey as an immigrant woman in this country. She alluded to being treated terribly, horrifically, and yet, still believing in what this country has to offer. This, my friends, is what makes America great. When people, different from us, can still hold optimism close to the pursuit of American ideals of equality and freedom. We can do it. My, my, I hope we can do it.

*

FullSizeRender_2.jpg

“we also ought to love one another”

Read here: New York Daily News – Racism at Trump Rally

This story – and many others from Shaun King – have left me sick with heartbreak, tears, and speechlessness. This particular one, however, has also brought me to my knees tonight. In prayer.

This story (videos & pictures, too) showcase the penetrating, undeniable evil of HATE.

I am posting something of a “political” nature because I want to encourage ALL OF YOU to pray. Pray for reconciliation, unity, hope, and love. These are tall-orders, but NOT impossible. God is with us, and the madness of supremacy, bigotry, racism, violence, and hatred CAN be overcome – through the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

Even in tears, I refuse to lose hope.

Our political opinions, thoughts, and parties matter. Certainly. Experience life, proclaim your right to think for yourself, and because of the FREEDOM America offers (a blessing itself!), express it. We WILL be different – that is how God made us. Unique.

However, our humanity is infinitely MORE important than our ideologies. And frankly, when ideology begins to spew a spirit of hatred, THAT is when the right to free speech becomes a weapon. This spirit is often what creates terrorism.

I have so many words, so many thoughts. But, I think Scripture says it best.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through hum. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us…

GOD IS LOVE.

WHOEVER LIVES IN LOVE LIVES IN GOD,

AND GOD IN HIM. (1 John 9-12; 17).

Amen.

mt