Bookshelf: In Praise of Unruly Women

Y’all, I have the opportunity to go to the Holy Land. If you feel led, your support would be so appreciated! Just click here.

Because I am an angry feminist with nothing better to do than corrupt the youth and therefore our collective future, I have been reading a lot of books by women with opinions (a sure road to destruction). The topics range from celebrities to family dynamics to relationships with our bodies, but all of these books are written and about women who are in some way ‘unruly’ and trying to be unapologetic for it. These have been some of my favorites of the past few months.

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Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women by Anne Helen Peterson — Peterson is a culture writer for Buzzfeed (and a UT alum, hook ‘em!). I read everything she publishes on the internet, so obviously I was ecstatic when her book came out. This collection of essays analyzes ten different female celebrities who are all, in different ways, ‘unruly.’ They break the norms of traditional femininity and challenge the traditional gender roles in Hollywood. Go read everything AHP publishes, like I do, starting with this book.

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Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood — Patricia Lockwood is a poet who was once called “the poet laureate of Twitter.” Lockwood’s memoir is about growing up with a Catholic priest for a father. But her father is a decidedly untraditional priest, and she is a wonderfully untraditional writer, weaving in poetry, hilarity, and commentary on Midwestern culture (she says she was raised in ‘all the worst cities in America’) to her story of moving back into her parents’ house with her husband during a financial crisis. I literally cackled aloud while reading this alone in my bedroom.

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All The Live I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers by Alana Massey — In this collection of essays, Massey analyzes what the treatment of female celebrities and pop culture figures (ranging from Lil’ Kim to Gwyneth Paltrow) says about womanhood in America. She is smart and incisive, and her essay about Sylvia Plath and the teenage-girl-Tumblr obsession with her is especially moving and relevant. Also look at that beautiful cover!

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Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay — Look, Roxane Gay has the range. If you’re not reading her, I don’t know what you’re doing. But in case you live under a rock where you haven’t heard of Gay: her prose is incandescent. Gay was gang-raped at twelve and turned to food as a means of control and comfort. Her memoir of moving through the world in what she terms an ‘unruly’ body— a body that takes up too much space— is heartbreaking and enraging and everything I needed.

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Abandon Me by Melissa Febos — This is a chronicle of Febos’s relationship with a woman that she thought was the love of her life. The first six essays were written while she was still in that relationship, and the last and longest was written after the relationship fell apart. That last essay explores her relationship with her absent father, her identity as a Native American, and her family dynamics while parsing all of the stages of a horrific break-up. The prose is beautiful and kept me entranced all the way through.

What I’m Reading Around the Web

A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof | REQUIRED READING by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for GQ

The Pernicious Junk Science Stalking Trans Kids | Zack Ford for Think Progress 

Having A Coke With You | poem by Frank O’Hara

Our Resistance Is Repentance (On the Nashville Statement, and Most Everything Else) | Jonathan Martin

The Nashville Statement Is an Attack on LGBT Christians | Eliel Cruz in the New York Times

Did This Book Buy It’s Way Onto the New York Times Bestseller List? | A SUPER interesting saga about a literary scam

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Help Me Get to the Holy Land!

HEY Y’ALL, I have this crazy opportunity.

People who know me well might remember the year of college when I studied Hebrew (read: Biblical Hebrew consumed my every waking thought and hour). Since learning Hebrew and becoming more aware of justice issues surrounding the Holy Land, I’ve wanted to be able to experience it for myself.

I’m so excited that I have the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia! From November 24th to December 5th, I’ll be traveling with a group from the diocese that includes the priest from my church and the bishop of the diocese.

We’re going during Advent, the time in the church to prepare the way for Jesus, and we’ll be visiting the significant places in Jesus’s life, from Bethlehem to Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. I’ll also get to tour the St. Vincent Creche/Orphanage, which is offering Christian love and compassion to over forty abandoned babies and small children. It is the only facility of its kind in the West Bank.

But the only way I’ll be able to experience the Holy Land- from the Dead Sea to the Western (Wailing) Wall- is with your help.

This September, I’m entering my second year as a youth minister at an Episcopal church. I also started grad school this fall. As part of the Episcopal Service Corps, I made a commitment to living in community and intentional simplicity. This means I simply don’t have the budget to pay for transatlantic flights, room and board, and transportation in the Holy Land.

Your support would mean the world to me. It is an investment in not only my faith but my ministry, because this pilgrimage will not only affect me. I truly believe that God works in powerful and mysterious ways, and I hope that this pilgrimage to the Holy Land will inform how I continue in my youth ministry, how I interact with my community, and how I write about my faith.

I will be forever grateful for your love and support. I will pray for you by name every day until the end of the trip, and I will hold you in my prayers long after that. In Hebrew, “shalom” means not just peace, but a deep flourishing. I will be praying that you flourish.

Check out my gofundme to support my trip to the Holy Land! 

The Seattle Statement: A Litany For Anxious Lesbians

Just this week, a hurricane has hit my home state, a virulent racist who committed terrible crimes was pardoned from receiving any consequences, transgender people were banned from the military, and North Korea launched a missile. Then, in the face of this, a huge (if unsurprising) list of evangelical leaders released the Nashville Statement, a horrific, homophobic statement that is the antithesis of the gospel of Jesus.

It’s been a year since I got home from the Race, moved across the country, and thought my life might get a little more normal. I thought this would be the year of staying still. The year of doing dishes.

But there’s too much to hold in my arms.

Instead I have been wandering through the borderlands between doubt and faith, wondering if the space in my chest I call Christianity can be reconciled with justice, truth, love. Gospel.

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The last time I went to the dentist, he asked if I bite my cheek. On the inside of my lip there is a calloused place, a worry stone where I clamp my teeth when I get nervous, which is often. If I don’t stop biting there, it will harden and never heal.

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This is not the blog I should be writing today. I should have something intelligent to say about the Nashville Statement. I should write about the very real consequences of homophobic theology on the lives of queer people.

But it feels like there is nothing else I can say that will change anyone’s mind.

If you can’t affirm the humanity of LGBT people, you can’t see how homophobia and racism go hand in hand, and you can’t see how white supremacy leads to neglect of the poor, and the orphan, and the widow, and the refugee, and you can’t see how theology kills in myriad ways but from the same demonic root. Start from anywhere you want: a labyrinth always leads to the same place.

Instead, I can only talk about what I learned. This year I learned just how fragile my arms are, how a still body doesn’t make a wandering heart any better.

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I worry about a lot of things.

I worry about whether any of The Youths hear me. I worry about being a lesbian in leadership at a church I don’t know very well, in a place I don’t very well. I worry about my car flying off the I-90 bridge into Lake Washington.

I worry about my appearance, especially in the South, especially that I look too gay. I worry about what I’m going to do, after this new year is over. I worry that I’m called to ministry and I’m doing the wrong thing by getting an MFA instead of an MDiv right now. I worry that I’ll never change the mind of a single person I love, someone who might love me but not what they think is my sin.

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Texas is a place that fits so strangely now: when I’m home a strip of me feels exposed, a tender place I’m used to keeping covered.

In August I drove up and down the highway with the people who know me best, the bright gold sunset streaking orange across the sky, my body rolling over the blacktop somewhere between our Texas towns, somewhere between who I used to be and who I am still becoming. My friends’ cars smell like plants, like leather, like motor oil, like the decade’s worth of memories we have between us. Like home.

This is what I miss, in Seattle where the air never smells like mesquite smoke.

What did I learn this year, that I never did in Texas? How to dress in what I like. How to drive a car while crying. How to make good coffee. How to kiss. How to cook for sixteen. How to talk to one very specific group of teenagers, maybe, on a good day.

In this year, I lived with three other people and left our town only a handful of times. From the bed I slept in almost every night, I memorized the sound of Jon and Timothy’s doors closing, and how Hilary breathes when she sleeps. I drove to the same place every Sunday with two dozen donuts, rain or shine, and tried to listen as much as I talked.

What else did I learn? The tender place that feels so vulnerable in Texas is who I am when I feel comfortable in my own soul.

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Here’s the good news of the gospel: Jesus has still died and been resurrected, for me and for many. God is still God, not John Piper. And God is love. God’s very essence is love.

This is a lesson all the travel in the world has taught me, from sunrise over Victoria Falls, to Peruvian mountain tops, to cold, salty seawater in the Pacific off the Olympic Peninsula, to the night sky over Texas after a storm clears, when it feels like the whole universe is close enough to touch.

So my queer body, my anxious mind, my wandering soul: I am holding on to that one bright hope.

God is a seed, I wrote around this time last year. I still believe that. I learned how to nurture the soil this year. I learned how to let my heart be a garden in which God can grow.

I will water my garden with the tears I shed for my LGBTQ siblings, and I will wait for the Spirit to move. This year I will reap what I sow.

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Wheat and Weeds (Sermon from Sunday, 7/23)

Hey, if you’re new here, a heads-up: I’m a youth director at an Episcopal church, and sometimes they let me preach. Here’s a sermon I got to preach on July 23rd. You can find the lectionary texts for the week here (we used Track A). 

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When I first read this week’s collection of lectionary texts, it was a bit of a rollercoaster of emotion. On the one hand, I love Psalm 139 and Romans 8- they have comforted me in times of anxiety and grief, and in many ways are foundational to my theology. But on the other hand, the story of Jacob’s dream is a little boring and confusing, and Jesus’s parable of the wheat and the weeds is downright terrifying to me. These texts bring up questions about theodicy and eschatology and ethics, and as a 23-year-old with an English degree, I’m an expert in exactly none of these things. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say or what direction this sermon was going to take. When I’m overwhelmed like this, I usually start looking for the most basic connections between the Scriptures.

So let me start here: on a dark night, in a desert, with one man alone until suddenly he finds that he is on holy ground. Jacob, like his father and grandfather before him, is promised by God that he will have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. God says that They will never leave Jacob until this promise is fulfilled, and all of the families of the earth will be blessed by Jacob’s offspring. Now, in Romans, Paul says that Christians are the children of God, receiving the spirit of adoption that makes us Abraham’s children, and thus fulfilling God’s promise to Jacob. This is a Christian re-writing of a Hebraic story, of course, but Paul was writing to Gentiles who had until then been on the outside of the ancient rituals that marked them as children of God. To be claimed as children of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, was to be adopted into a story and family much larger than themselves. It was saying that what mattered wasn’t our pedigree, but our faith.

I find it easier to jump into the gospel reading this week if we start with Paul’s writing in our mind. As I said, my first reaction to Jesus’s parable was “WHOA, calm down there, edge-Lord.” It is one of the Bible stories I struggle with, because of how often this parable and others like it have been used as a bludgeon. It would be easy to use the story of the wheat and the weeds as a way to create in-groups and out-groups: we are the grain, and “those people” are the weeds. The problem is that for me, “those people” start to look like anyone who disagrees with me, anyone who doesn’t follow my exact version of faith.

The idea of orthodoxy has been heavy on my mind this week. If any of you are my friend on Facebook or read my blog, you may have noticed that I accidentally went viral. The contents of my blog aren’t important to this sermon, but the reactions are: my family and I were accused of not having a true faith in Jesus, not adhering to the correct set of beliefs that will get us into heaven, or as one commenter so eloquently put it, “off the road that leads to perdition.” In this scenario, I was one of the weeds to be tossed into the fire at the end of the age.

My immediate reaction to these comments, of course, was to call my mom and rant about why exactly I was a shaft of wheat and not a weed. I wanted to make sure that I was part of the in-group and that they were the out-group. I wanted Jesus to tell me that I was right in holding a grudge against homophobic strangers on the Internet. Needless to say, I felt convicted as I started writing this sermon.

In Jesus’s parable, the master does not tell the servants to uproot the weeds; in fact, to ensure as much wheat as possible is saved, the master nurtures both weed and wheat. In this metaphor, humans are the plants growing up towards the sun, our root systems all entangled. In this metaphor, we the plants do not know who is wheat and who is weed.

I think the pairing of this parable with the passage from Romans 8 is intentional. Romans 8 tells us that as children of God, we are co-heirs with Christ. If this is true (and I believe it is), then our identity as children of God is the core part of ourselves, the power from which everything else flows. If we are co-heirs with Christ, waiting in anticipation with the rest of creation for the adoption and redemption of our bodies, then the parable of the wheat and the weeds is a call to love our neighbors as radically as if we are siblings. We have no way of knowing who, in the end, will be the children of God, because all who are led by the Spirit of God are His children, and therefore our family.

Lest you think I’ve gone all New-Age-y on you, a disclaimer: I’m not sure what heaven looks like, or who will end up there. I was raised too evangelical for any definite answer to sit peacefully in my mind. As best I can picture it, heaven looks like the line from the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’: “when we’ve been there ten thousands years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.” I am learning to sit in the tension that comes with hope in things that are not seen.

My study Bible notes that, “the inner testimony of the Spirit is experienced as intense yearning and hope.” This yearning and hope, this testimony to the Spirit of God, is manifested in as many different ways as there are different people in the world. And the power of the Spirit is that it transforms weeds into grain- poisonous, thorny leaves into nourishment. All of creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God– and if, by radically loving my neighbor, by being kind when I could have been sharp, by seeing everyone as a wheat instead of a weed, even one more person is adopted to the kingdom of God, then I think the Spirit has worked through me to ease the labor pains of creation.

This year, one of my roommates introduced me to a poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest. When I think of the slow, nurturing work of the Spirit in our lives, the effort to grow upwards towards the sun with our neighbors, this is the poem I think of:

 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

 

I am learning to sit in the anxiety of incomplete belief. Learning to strive upwards and extend my roots to grow with everyone around me. I don’t know what happens at the end of the age, but I am convinced that none of us are right. And I am equally assured that we are adopted: we are children of God, and our frail bodies of belief will be redeemed.

An Open Letter to My Parents’ Pastor

You don’t know me, and I’m not usually in the habit of writing open letters, but this is a special occasion.

You’ve been the pastor of AUMC for two Sundays now. Last Sunday you gave a sermon about the authority of Scripture. About halfway through the sermon, you said some things that hurt a lot of people very deeply. Towards the end, you mentioned that you don’t care about hurting people’s feelings (which doesn’t strike me as very pastoral, but that’s another letter).

Long story short, my parents are leaving AUMC.

Here are some things you should know: we’ve been members for 13 years, since I was ten years old. My brother and I were confirmed there; I preached for the first time there; until recently, I thought I would get married there.

Another thing you should know: I am a lesbian. I came out this year, after many years of trying to deny who I was. My parents love me unconditionally. My mom cried through your sermon last Sunday. My dad calmly collected his things and told the choir director we wouldn’t be back.

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I’m writing to you because I love my parents. In many ways, I feel guilty for the choices my sexuality created for them: choices between me and the rest our family, between me and decade-long friendships, between me and our church. I haven’t asked them to make these choices, but I never had to. When I called my mom on Sunday, after hearing about your sermon, she told me that she cancelled helping with VBS, couldn’t even go back in the building after that.

I’m writing to you because I want you to know who you are losing in my parents.

My dad, Greg, recently re-joined the board of trustees. He plays guitar in the praise band and leads an adult Sunday school class. He was the construction coordinator on the youth mission trip this year and has been since I was in high school. In a couple of weeks, he’s going back to Kenya with another Methodist church, to work at a hospital AUMC supports. My mom, Kathy, founded the Stephen Ministry team at AUMC, and still has a full roster of people to whom she offers lay grief counseling. She was a cook on the youth mission trips when my brother and I went. She helps with the elementary after-school programs and Vacation Bible School and is the first to make a meal for anyone who needs one.

We are those church people. We weren’t always that family, but then AUMC let my dad play guitar, and showed up with fried chicken when my uncle died, and quite literally saved my life. The church grew up around us like ivy over a wall. Or maybe, streams of living water in a desert.

I’m not saying all this to brag, but to show you who we are: a family whose life has been shaped and guided by our membership at our church, who have found time and again that our church family is strong where we are weak.

Tell me who sinned, my church or my parents, that I grew up believing that I was loved beyond reason?

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My parents will tell you that I’m really good at feelings. But here’s how your theology actually hurts LGBTQ+ people:

About 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

One-third of LGB youth will attempt suicide. This is four times higher than the average for heterosexual, cisgender teens, and when LGB youth attempt suicide, the attempts are 4 to 6 times more likely to end in injuries needing serious medical treatment.

In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

On top of this, LGB youth who come from highly-rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their LGB peers who come from affirming or low-rejecting families.

About one-fifth of reported single-bias hate crimes are committed against LGBT people.

Your theology literally kills people, and you wantonly condemned queer people because you felt safe in the authority of a pulpit and the assumption that everyone agreed with you.

That is not love. That is not Biblical.

That is not how I learned to live out my faith, in the very Sunday school rooms of the church you now pastor. My church raised me to fight for the least of these, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to pray and strive for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

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There’s an argument to be made for co-existing in difference of opinion, but I refuse to do that when your opinion is actively working to kill me and my siblings in Christ. Thanks be to God, my parents feel the same.

Ultimately, this is who you lose when you lose my parents: the best people in the world. The ones who will show up at your house in a crisis, who will drive for hours to fix your car, who will give money to your mission trip, who will love you and love you and love you until you can love yourself again.

When you lose queer people, you lose these same things. We are just church people, like my parents. We are those church people.

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We can talk, if you want, but know that I am volunteering to have these conversations so my parents don’t have to. So the gay kids in the youth group, closeted or not, don’t have to.

I don’t want to have the Bible debates with you. I don’t want to hear you say you love me, but not my sin. I don’t want to have to sit and defend my humanity to you, but I will defend the humanity of others all day long. It’s how my church raised me.

I truly pray this isn’t the final goodbye to AUMC for my parents. But the family of Christ is big and the kingdom is wide, and they will find another place to call home.

How to Live In A Burning House: On the One-Year Anniversary of Pulse

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There’s a vague entry in my journal on June 13th, 2016. “I haven’t cried since Colombia,” it starts, “and I’ve been holding on to numbness like a lifeline, but today everything broke through.”

I woke up to the news of the Pulse shooting in a small room in Peru, my teammates asleep next to me, and I cried like I hadn’t in months. My journal doesn’t mention Pulse or that 49 (mostly Latinx) LGBTQ people lost their lives. Just a dam bursting inside me, something radically different than the day before.

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On June 12th, 2016, 49 people were murdered because they were gay. It was the largest act of terrorism on American soil since 9/11 and it was perpetrated against LGBTQ people who dared to unapologetically dance and laugh and love.

I wanted Christians to lament. I wanted my friends at home to name this act for what it was: homophobia, and hatred. Somehow, the prayers I saw on Facebook ended up blaming gay people for being in a gay bar in the first place, praying for our deliverance from sin just as much as our deliverance from violence.

Before Pulse, I could argue the academics of human sexuality, and affirm my gay friends, and pretend I had crushes on attractive men all day. But after Pulse, crying in a sleeping bag in a cold room in Peru, a part of me knew that I could not pretend for much longer, and that there would be a cost, and I was so afraid that I couldn’t even write the words down.

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On June 13th, I tweeted a Tennessee Williams quote: “We live in a perpetually burning building and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

This year I was reminded of the flames of Pentecost, only a week before the anniversary of the Pulse shooting. The flames of Pentecost are different: they are not violent; they do not burn your flesh like the hot iron of a machine gun fired into a dancing crowd. These flames heal where a violent world has broken us. They bring a common language where before there was none.

I am privileged by my skin color, my geographic location, and my upper-middle-class upbringing, and yet the common language I share with the victims of the Pulse massacre is our queerness.

Pentecost came almost a year after Pulse and promised the Spirit was with us, is with us, will always be with us; even in the deepest of griefs, even in the threat of death, even in the burning building where we are desperately trying to save love.

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I don’t know where I’m going this with post. I wanted to say that Pentecost gives common language to people who are willing to hear. I wanted to say I’m a lesbian, and a Christian, and I was torn in two after the Orlando massacre. I want to say that sometimes the church feels like a burning building.

I wanted to say that Pulse changed me profoundly. I wanted to say that homophobia kills people, and it doesn’t just do it with guns at nightclubs, but with depression, and suicide, and families kicking their LGBTQ children out of the house. I wanted to say that I have hope even in the face of an act of terror which was meant to instill fear. I wanted to say that LGBT people will thrive no matter how many times we are forced to rebuild our safe spaces.

I came out six months after Pulse. The first time I went dancing at a gay bar, a man patted me down before I could go in, his hands moving over my tight jeans and crop-top-clad torso, and I felt a shiver of fear. But then I went inside and danced with my friends, and I was not afraid.

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These were the victims of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Please take a moment to say their names, pray for their families, and remember.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Kimberly Morris, 37
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Cory James Connell, 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Frank Hernandez, 27
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Practice Resurrection (Sermon from Youth Sunday, 4/23)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. -John 20:19-31

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            On the evening of Easter, the disciples were still in darkness. Even after Mary Magdalene had told them that she had seen the risen Jesus, the male disciples were still locked inside their house in fear of the Jewish and Roman authorities. The gospel passage today is a continuation of the gospel on Easter: it’s not a new chapter but rather the epilogue to Mary Magdalene finding Jesus in the garden and being called by name. It seems intentional to me that the disciples’ fear is not really the beginning of the story, but rather right in the middle, after all possible assurances have been made that Jesus is alive.

A friend of mine said this week that usually by Easter Sunday they are pulled out of the funk that Holy Week puts them in, but that this year it has been harder to leave behind that feeling of darkness. The journey through Jesus’s death and resurrection remind us who we are, and sometimes that is a hard reminder. We are a fearful people, even in the face of our greatest joy. The disciples were promised eternal life, and sundown on Easter found them in a room locked from the inside, afraid of death.

Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and university professor, writes about her search for “real life” in her book Leaving Church. She writes, “You do not have to [literally] die in order to discover the truth… You only need to lose track of who you are, or who you thought you were supposed to be, so that you end up lying flat on the dirt floor basement of your heart. Do this, Jesus says, and you will live.”

If Lent is a reminder of our humanity, of the ashes that we came from and shall return to, then the Easter season is the perfect time to lose track of who we are. It’s a time to forget that we are fearful, and doubtful, and probably not listening to the women trying to tell us something. Easter is time to let Jesus into our locked rooms, whatever they may be, and rejoice. Easter is a time to lose track of who we think we are and remember that God has made us a resurrection people.

Of course, that is often easier said than done.

Last year for Easter I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, having just spent a month in a tiny village in Swaziland. Swaziland is a landlocked country inside of South Africa. Some fun facts: it’s the last absolute monarchy in the world. It’s population is almost 100% ethnically Swazi. It is one of the youngest countries in the world, with over 35% of the population age 14 or younger, and at the current rate of HIV and AIDS infection, the WHO has predicted that by 2050 Swaziland will most likely cease to exist.

Nsoko, the town where I lived, was less of a town and more of a collection of army barracks, mud huts, a couple of small shops, and a bus stop where 18-passenger vans called koombees would pick you up and, for about 25 U.S. cents, take you 30 kilometers down the road to Matata, a town with a grocery store. If you took a koombee to Matata, you drove through endless fields that were mostly dry and brown. The entirety of southern Africa was—and still is— in the middle of a decade-long drought, and Swaziland is among the countries hardest hit both physically and economically, because it’s main export is sugar cane.

I was in Swaziland for most of Lent, and it was easy to remember that we came from dust, because I was constantly dusty. Orange dirt stained everything, including but not limited to: my clothes, my tent, my journal, and the entire book of Proverbs in my Bible. All month, I helped with feeding programs and taught kindergarten lessons to children who came to a care point run by local grandmothers. Most of the kids were AIDS orphans, being raised by an older sibling or some other relative. In many cases, the food the kids got at the care point was the only meal they would have that day. It was easy to remember that we came from dust.

We left Swaziland for Johannesburg on Good Friday, which, as a metaphor for coming out of Lent, was a little too on-the-nose for me. It was a hard month to leave behind. There are a lot of clichés that I could say about my month in Swaziland (or my mission program in general), but the truth is harder to get a handle on. I did not grow in my own spiritual life because of the poverty I saw around me, although it would be easy to say that. I did not learn to trust God in everything because of the faith of the Swazi people, although it would also be easy to say that. The truth is that on Easter last year, I was still in a locked room. As much as I wanted to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, in his blood poured out for me and for many for the forgiveness of sins, and in his emptying of the tomb, I was fearful. I doubted that the kingdom of God could ever come to earth in such a powerful way that these vast inequalities would be righted.

The doubt and fear might look different for you. I spent a year on an international mission trip. Maybe you spent a year trying to get pregnant, or trying to get sober, or trying to get a handle on your depression or anxiety. Maybe whatever’s inside your locked room is so private, so tender, that you haven’t even said the words out loud. It is easier to lock the doors than to believe against all hope that joy is coming. Clutching tight to all the threads we’re afraid of unraveling is sometimes easier than lying down on that dirt floor basement and waiting to see who we really are.

But I’m mixing metaphors. All of this is to say, this year I have a new sympathy for Thomas.

We don’t know where Thomas was when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples, and this is the only story where Thomas plays a starring role, and it’s one of the most embarrassing moments of his life (to put it lightly). The other disciples had seen Jesus together. They had already touched his hands and side, and felt Jesus’s breath on them. And while all the rest of the disciples had finally moved out of the grimness of Holy Week, Thomas would not be moved until he saw proof with his own eyes.

In my study Bible, the note on this verse says, “Thomas refused the apostles’ ‘gospel’ about Jesus.” He refused the good news. I once gave a sermon on this same story and compared Thomas’s reaction to Mary Magdalene’s, how neither of them actually believed that Jesus would do what he said he was going to do. Neither of them believed in the resurrection until they saw it, the difference is how they reacted when they were faced with the truth. We don’t know exactly why Thomas didn’t believe his closest friends, the people he had been living with for three years. It’s easy to say that he doubted God’s abilities.

But I think beyond disbelief, there was hurt. I think a part of Thomas said, “Why would Jesus appear to my friends and not to me? Was I not good enough? Did I not also give everything up to follow him? If this is true, why wouldn’t Jesus wait for me?”

I am very good at holding on to hurt. Like Thomas, I stubbornly refuse the good news of the resurrection, because I want proof. The easiest way to win an argument is to provide evidence, right? There is so much evidence of suffering and of need in the world that it can be hard to listen to people telling us good news. My impulse is to trace the scars of the world before I talk about the joy there is to be grasped.

But ultimately the point of today’s gospel story is that Jesus comes to us in our locked room, in our demands for proof, in our newsfeeds inundated with bad news, and says, “Reach out your hand. Do not doubt, but believe.”

Jesus says, “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood poured out for you. This is the Holy Spirit, who is always with you.”

When Thomas touched Jesus’s wounds, he cried out “My Lord and my God!” It doesn’t say what his posture was, but I like to believe he fell to his knees. Christian tradition holds that later Thomas travelled widely, and died in India while preaching the Gospel.

In a poem called “Manifesto,” Wendell Berry says, “Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.”

I pray we should all be so bold, as the disciples were, to let Jesus into the locked room. Lie down on the dirt floor. Like Thomas, make tracks in the wrong direction, and come back again. In this Easter season, may we be so bold as to practice resurrection.