36 Questions

An old friend and I got together for dinner and a movie earlier this week. We met towards East Colfax, a bustling, growing part of Denver. I parked my car (admittedly, it was a bit stressful as I have only recently become competent at parallel parking) and made my way towards the restaurant.

As we ate our food and caught up on the small details of life (work, summer activities, and dating) she mentioned that on several dates she had gone through the now famous 36 questions that are thought to lead to intimacy between two people with recent suitors.

The study, led by Arthur Aron and a group of psychologists, found that “reciprocal and escalated self-disclosure” can be associated with the development of closeness. The research and findings became famous because they were featured in the Modern Love column in the New York Times. I first heard about the study while listening to an episode called “To Fall in Love, Do This” and was fascinated at the idea that interpersonal vulnerability could create such a strong bond.

My friend told me more – she shared that the last activity after asking these series of questions (there are three sets, designed to build in depth) was to stare into the other person’s eyes for four minutes. FOUR MINUTESImmediately, I thought to myself, I definitely need to do this with Chelsea.

We haven’t tried it yet – but I want to. In the mean time, I have read a bit more about the questions and the study.

Some of the questions in the exchange include items like:

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?

Why haven’t you done it?

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Better yet, I stumbled across this charming, touching, tender video of three different couples going through the process of asking the questions. I literally wept. There is something about watching love manifest between two people, especially in their interactions. It is both inspiring and soothing.

Check out the video below – you won’t be sorry. And, if you get a chance to start exploring these questions with someone you love (it doesn’t even have to be a partner!) who knows where the conversation might lead.

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.

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Onward & Upward

Driving to the Denver Coliseum last week, on a Friday mid-afternoon, I found myself nervous, giddy, proud, and ecstatic all at once. Grandma, smiling with a dark red lipstick, was in the passenger seat as the soft sound of Google Maps ensured that I took the fastest route. We parked close to the old beige-colored building and were able to find the rest of my family waiting inside.

We – all of us – had gathered to witness something miraculously momentous.

My brother was graduating college. Lance – he did it!

The anticipation was palpable as the ceremony begun and the commencement speakers shared their keen words of wisdom. I was particularly inspired after hearing from Metro State’s current President, Janine Davidson, who formerly served as an undersecretary for the U.S. Navy, among other high-level leadership positions in the Pentagon (um, so cool). She acknowledged that for many students, the path to success is not linear – it’s bumpy and windy, and often, ends up in places that we couldn’t necessarily expect. She shared that the youngest graduate from the December 2017 class was in their twenties – the oldest, in their seventies. She noted that over 300 graduates were the first in their families to secure a degree. From anecdote, to fact, to story, she exemplified why graduations are important at all – and I couldn’t help but glance at Lance ever so often, remembering all that he has been through to get here.

Simultaneously, I sat next to (and at times, held) Kysyn and AnaLynah, my nephew and niece, encouraging them to cheer loudly when they heard their dad’s name. Eventually, he stood, and meandered toward stage in a slow-moving line.

Lance Taylor Newell.  

We cheered and clapped and smiled. Yes! It was happening.

You see, the path for my brother was not and has not been easy. He has had to overcome challenges that I could not dream of facing. And yet, he has survived.

I don’t say that lightly either; many times, especially while I was living abroad, I wondered if I would see him again. I feared that we would lose touch. That maybe, things would never get better. In my heart, I knew how badly he wanted a solid, strong future. But, ultimately, he was going to have to fight for it. He did – and he won.

As I heard my brother’s name called for completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, I tried to freeze and capture the moment as best as I could. I looked around at our family, I gazed at him, and I held closely to my feelings of joy. I did not soon want to forget the rawness of miraculous joy. There really is no feeling like it.

A couple days later, at his graduation party, my mom and step-dad showed a slide show with pictures from many points in his life. From his teen years, from his time in sports, and even his earliest pictures, at just over 3 lbs, when he was still in the hospital. It was those pictures that made me weep; I have known Lance my entire life and for the duration of his life, he has been fighting. He has been brave. He has been resilient. He is not perfect – nor am I – but he’s done something that I hope he is proud of.

My biggest hope for him is that his story becomes one that he not only shares – but one that he can look back on and be proud of.

More people need to know that surviving (and thriving) is an option. More people need to know that overcoming addiction is possible. More people need to know that addressing mental illness is critical and necessary and NOT a weakness. And, more people need to know that it has been done.

My other biggest hope is that Lance can know deeply, and fully, how valued (and loved) he is. Though a diploma is a testament to one kind of success – it can never give a person the full value that they deserve.

Lance – wholly and completely himself – is worth gold. I have never been prouder and I simply cannot wait to see what is next on the horizon.

Sibling relationships are special – after all, at least for Lance and me, it’s the only kind of relationship where we’ve have shared so much of life at similar ages and at similar times. I used to say that Lance was my best friend. Though adult life has taken us to different places for different reasons, I still believe he is.

He knows me. He is my best friend.

And, he’s a newly graduated young man with so much ahead of him.

Onward and upward.

I Choose You

Like any refined, distilled whiskey, it takes time to process the really good, sweet stuff. That slow, aged flow is not unlike how we, as humans, process big changes in our lives, including milestones like graduation, sports victories, loss of loved ones, marriage, and new jobs. After all, I have often heard that in life we are guaranteed two things: change and taxes. Things will always change, and in turn, we will have to always adapt, pivot, and grow.

For the last week, I have been an engaged woman. Though this season is just a few days old, I can feel its importance and significance permeating all around me. I am preparing to commit my life to someone else, someone that I love deeply. That’s a huge deal.

Engagement has been an idea that Chelsea and I have been discussing for months. We have been together for over a year yet, in total transparency, I knew I wanted to marry her early into our relationship. There was something about her spirit, about her soul, that connected with mine. Early on, this was an intimate truth that I kept to myself until after we openly shared what was happening between us. While I do not believe in soul mates (at least in the traditional sense), our story unfolded in such a way that it felt like we were given a gift that we just kept saying “yes” to – again and again and again. I could not ignore the magnetism of our hearts – this was more than puppy love, fueled by amorous hormones. This was a deep knowing.

She was the woman I wanted and had dreamed for. Goofy, intelligent, driven, nerdy, patient, thoughtful, motivated, compassionate, faithful, self-aware, and also, just so beautiful in every way. Better yet, she has the best laugh of anyone I know. I genuinely believe that successful relationships hinge upon the presence of playfulness and laughter. She also holds a strong appreciation and love for books (especially from the library), God, nature, and creativity – much like I do. Confession: after a few weeks of dating, I checked my “list” of desirable qualities I wanted in a partner. She met every piece of criteria.

Much later, this past summer, we had a surprising but open conversation about where we were headed. Mutually, together, we decided that we wanted to share and do life together – always. Engagement was on the docket.

One of the (many) lovely things about being in a same sex relationship is that inherently, we are able to rethink tradition. This is not to say there is not a place for tradition, but instead, we are able to forge a path that does not follow one particular model. We can bring a newness to what commitment looks like, while still acknowledging that tradition can always be a part of the story. Originally, we discussed doing two proposals within a short time frame. We both felt it was important to ask and accept. However, by putting them close together, the mystery of when is lost. So, we decided instead I would ask first (in 2017), Chelsea would ask second (in 2018), and then we could begin planning for a summer 2019 wedding.

Never one to hold back, I initiated the planning process for a proposal for Chelsea quickly after this conversation, including the purchase of the ring. We had already gone together, with her mother, to pick out our designs, and because Chelsea’s ring was a custom make, it would need extra time to be created.

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As I began to plan for what proposing to Chelsea would look like, there were several priority areas that I wanted to honor throughout the process:

  1. Pray fervently and often. For so long, the idea of commitment (marriage or otherwise) felt out of reach. Now, a close, tangible reality, I wanted to prepare my heart in every way that I could to make sure that I was as ready as I could be to take the next step. I do not think you can ever be perfectly ready, but I do think you can prepare and reflect on what these big changes mean for your life and who you are.
  2. Include Chelseas family and friends. Asking for Chelsea’s parents’ blessing was never a choice in my plan. I recognized that being with Chelsea is an honor and I wanted her parents to know that I took that seriously. Moreover, a major part of Chelsea’s journey has been the unyielding love and support from her friends. I wanted all of that love in her life to be present when I asked her to marry me.
  3. Create a space for authenticity, intentionality, and thoughtfulness. I did not want to ask Chelsea to be my wife in a showy, over-the-top manner. I wanted every piece of it to mean something special and to show her how much she means to me.

Taking these into account, I aimed to pop the question around our 1-year anniversary (October 30th). As I brainstormed, San Francisco came to my mind repeatedly. This was a destination we both had expressed a lot of interest in visiting – so why not go all out for such a momentous celebration in our lives? Certainly, more questions followed: Should I propose there? When would we go? What would she want to do while we were there? How could I keep this a secret?

I knew if we went to San Francisco, she would anticipate a proposal during the trip. Let’s be real, it would be pretty obvious. Thus, it had to happen before. I booked plane tickets for our anniversary and planned to ask on the day prior to our getaway: Friday, October 27th. I found out later that this was also the same day of my graduate school interview (naturally). It would be (and was) one of the most intense days of my life.

As summer turned into fall, I had a date for the big day, and I had a celebration, too. However, I still needed to fine-tune exactly how the proposal would happen. I mused over countless possibilities. As the plan came to life, I knew unswervingly that I wanted to write something to Chelsea. Writing is an important part of who I am, and how I express myself. I began to draft versions of what I wanted to say. There were so many drafts that I was filling pages and pages of thoughts in my notebook. In that process, I fathomed how hard it was to find the words for something so potent, powerful, and moving.

In the end, because she had to work late on that Friday, I asked her at our home – which led me to transform our space into something romantic, calming, and intimate. On the night of the proposal, while she worked, I prepared everything. I lit the candles, I bought the flowers, and finalized a playlist that would play when she arrived home, beginning with our song, I Choose You” by Sara Bareilles. On the door, I left a sign that said, “read the card before entering” which had directions for her to leave all of her items near the front and to take deep breaths as she entered our home.

Engagement 1

When she opened the door, she saw hundreds of tea light candles (because, literally, there were 200). On our dining room table, she saw printed photographs and all of the wine corks we have saved in the first year of our relationship (yes, we love red wine). All over the table I spread colorful confetti, because if you know Chelsea, you know she loves colors.

Engagement 2

On the floor, I made a path of petals for her to follow.

On the second table, in our living room, Dove Dark Chocolates (yum) were placed all over, with more confetti, and a card that said on the front, “I cant wait to marry you.” Also on the table, I left printed tickets for our trip to California. Finally, she would know!

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As she discovered these items late into the evening, I heard her softly cry as she took in all that was unfolding. When I heard her weep, it took everything in me not to also sob loudly. However, I was waiting in the next room, and my heart was beating heavy, wanting to hold onto the moment to come.

The final sign in the living room said, Ready?” and when she was, she would come and find me.

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She turned the corner and there I was, waiting for her with candles, wine, cards from friends and family, and of course, the ring. We embraced and held each other as tears fell from both of our eyes. It was surreal and emotional. I asked gently, “are you ready for this?” and led her to the couch. We sat on our grey futon and I read her the most important letter I have ever written to anyone.

Dear Chelsea, my beloved,  

Its you. When we jumped in this together, a year ago, I could not have imagined where the journey would take us.

Darling, with you, we have celebrated and cried; laughed and wept; rollerbladed and walked throughout Denver. As days, weeks, and months have passed we have slowly, but intentionally carved out our life together.

Life with you is abundant in joy. Life with you is miraculously astounding. Life with you is what I have been hoping and wishing for.

When, a year ago, you told me that you liked me, I panicked.

Am I ready?

Should I really take this risk?

How do I know if I am ready for this? 

I was scared. I was afraid of loving, but also, what it would mean to really, wholly, authentically be myself.

 I took the risk because I trusted you. In turn, with you, I have known the deepest joy I have ever felt.

You see me. You know me. You celebrate me. We are dorks and yet dreamers. We are grounded and yet goofy. When I finish the day, there is no one I would rather hold. Forever, I will hold our walks in Wash Park, our shared meals, our travels, our reading in bed, our long talks, and our mutual affinity for ice cream close.  

This year has been peppered with many memories that build the foundation for who we are and who we will be.

I adore you. Your laugh makes me weak at the knees. Your smile reminds me of safety. With you, I know I am home. With all that I am, I cannot wait to continue our story together.

Today is the day! It is the day where I can in complete, total confidence declare that I choose you. It is you, Chelsea.

Come with me to San Francisco and lets celebrate the most profound, surprising, and special piece of our lives our love. And forever, darling, will you marry me and be my wife?

At the end, I got down on one knee to ask if she would marry me.

She said, “yes!”

We held each other again and confidently, I placed her ring on her finger. We did it.

The ring is stunning; it includes a diamond from her mother, as well as smaller diamonds from her late stepmother, all of which made the moment even sweeter. We took it all in. We sipped celebratory wine. We read beautifully kind cards from loved ones. We packed. It all felt like a dream – and it still does.

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My life with Chelsea will be many things – exciting, fun, empowering, and meaningful. She is the love of my life. I choose her. She chooses me. And we have only just begun.

I am in awe of her, of this, and the pure, deepening act of partnering with another human. Together, we will face the world with boldness, compassion, and love. Together, we can write our own story. Still, Chelsea does not complete me. I am enough all on my own. And yet, in my darkest of times, I doubted everything about myself. I wondered if I could ever love like this. I wondered if I would ever be enough.

Chelsea’s love lets me fully shine. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.

Remember: A Prayer

Remember: A Prayer

[6:37 AM, 10/2/2017]

Hey ladies! I woke up and heard the horrible news in Vegas and I’m so so depressed and heartbroken about it. I just want to spread some love and let you know I love you ladies very much and value our friendship greatly ❤❤❤❤❤

I woke up last week, on Monday morning, to this message from one of my dearest friends. My heart broke in a million pieces. My mind raced back through the many other events like it, Columbine, Aurora, San Bernardino – the list goes on. I assumed that what had happened in Vegas was a shooting. Unfortunately, I tend to think this way because our particular generation has been conditioned to this: gun violence has become normalized. It’s messed up. It’s sad. And, it’s also true.

I hesitantly checked the news and I was right. At that point, over 50 had been reported killed and hundreds were injured. I prayed before I even got out of bed. 

Lord, have mercy.

The rest of the day felt foggy and as I sat at work, rhythmically typing and listening to some tunes on Spotify, the ever-present question of, “what do I do? kept ruminating in my mind and heart.

At lunch, I took a walk to get some fresh air. I brainstormed ideas or thoughts that might help. Maybe I should give blood?  Maybe I should give to a fund to support the victims’ families? Indeed, there were several action-oriented things I could (and can) do.

When I came home later that night, I tried to absorb everything that has transpired in the last couple of months: Chelsea’s losses in her families, the hurricanes, the Vegas shooting, Charlottesville….

I mean, is it just me or has it felt like these months have been really hard?

It is overwhelming to sit with all that has transpired. As I did, a pronounced call to prayer came to me. Gratitude. Though much has happened in my own life and the world throughout this summer (and now fall), there is a steadiness of God that I have been unable to ignore.

In the midst of crisis, pain, loss, violence, and death, in me there remains a steely and steady trust that God is in this with us. I don’t mean to say that God is a bystander. And, I don’t mean to say that God allows these things to happen. If that was the case, what kind of God would that be? No, I mean that God that exists through and in us. I think God grieves with us. I think God celebrates with us, too. And so, I as I entered this call to prayer, I made a list of remembrances. It is my hope that by remembering, we can acknowledge that we will get through this.

We know this because we always have.

Remember: A Prayer

I remember when my brother was born.

I remember when I learned to ride a bike.

I remember making new friends.

I remember starting my first job.

I remember my parents divorce.

I remember changing schools.

I remember my parents remarriages.

I remember starting and loving field hockey.

I remember moving South.

I remember wondering if I was gay.

I remember changing my mind about my beliefs.

I remember seeing and witnessing real poverty.

I remember when grandma died.

I remember when one of my students was raped.

I remember living in Papas house.

I remember bucket baths.

I remember failing and then succeeding as a teacher.

I remember leaving.

I remember coming home.

I remember coming out.

I remember depression.

I remember renewal.

I remember taking the job I really wanted.

I remember the Pulse shooting.

I remember Pride.

I remember when the Broncos won the Super bowl.

I remember moving near Washington Park.

I remember being brave.

I remember meeting Chelsea (again).

I remember falling in love (again).

I remember being bold.

I remember God, in everything.

God has never left me.

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dancing grief

Hair, deeply rooted, still changes.

Vivid brown roots transform to sparkling grey;

Your skin, still so elegant, keeps a smooth terrain, like soft plaster.

Green iris eyes hold a conglomerate of sights seen, loves lost, and hopes deferred.

The life you have lived oozes from your pores;

You, though aging, have really, wholly –

Lived.

We all age.

Our hair may hold no secrets but our hearts, pulled with depth and certainty into our chest are the keepers of our souls.

Here, you find the tender touches of your children, the dreams unlocked, and the forgotten pain that no one sees. Here you keep surprise birthdays, the taste of vanilla bean ice cream, and the pleasures of a walk outdoors after a long spring sun-shower.

Blossoming youth become sophisticated adults become seasoned senior citizens until we are “old” – 

And then –

Like a deadline, we ignore its looming until –

it arrives.

In death, we lose treasures:

stories told and untold;

loves revealed and unrevealed;

recipes cooked and uncooked.

A photograph does not contain your spirit.

A story, even with energy, grows old.

Herein lies grief.

Our powerlessness.

Our sadness.

Our nostalgia.

Grief upon grief dances together, lies together, tarnishing the vivid array of color we once held. We weep, we weep, and we are afraid it will never stop.

Never what we had will be again. And yet. We live on.

We carry you.

We remember you.

We give to our lives the way you gave,

knowing mysteriously and gracefully that it passes on.

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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.