I’m Breaking Up With the United Methodist Church

Hey, UMC. We need to talk.

Next month, it will be twenty-three years since I was baptized in a United Methodist church in Kansas City; eleven years since I was confirmed at Alliance United Methodist in Fort Worth. A huge chunk of my brain is devoted to the hymns and liturgies of my childhood, which I learned in Sunday school rooms in Methodist churches across Missouri and Texas.

In college I went to the Texas Wesley, a United Methodist campus ministry at UT. The Rio Texas Conference of the UMC almost sent me to seminary to be a pastor. My parents still attend the church I grew up in: my mom is a Stephen minister; my dad teaches Sunday school.

But I’m breaking up with you, you beautiful mess of a denomination.

//

It’s not you, it’s me.

I’ve never broken up with someone before, but I’ve heard this is what you say. It is half true.

It started out as about me, really. About halfway through my college career, I lost the language to talk to God. Then I lost the language to talk about God. I started going to Servant Church, a Methodist church plant with beautiful liturgy, new hymns that sound old and old hymns that sound new. Growing up in a town where every church looks and talks and feels a little bit Baptist, Servant Church shocked me a little, taught me a new way to do church, but it didn’t fill the void.

Then, the World Race, where I had to cobble together words for God that would translate into eleven different languages. In Eastern Europe, I found the Book of Common Prayer and I read the whole thing cover to cover. (Apparently, that’s not how you’re supposed to do it. Ignorance is bliss, my dudes.) I longed for even the simplest of liturgies at churches across southern Africa, and I applied to the Episcopal Service Corps because their application questions made me weep at three in the morning on a balcony in Colombia.

We just grew apart. Maybe it was inevitable; maybe I could have worked harder to hold onto our relationship. I believed in us, after all.

But I needed something more: a way of worshipping that better reflected how I relate to God; a language for prayer when I had none; a way to move between ancient tradition and this modern world that did not tear me in two. I found it, unexpectedly, in the Episcopal church.

//

This is where it becomes about you.

When I came out six months ago, I knew the risks. The Rio Texas Conference would almost certainly never ordain me: while I was in college, two seminarians’ ordination processes were blocked because of their gender or sexuality. One of them was my friend, who has since moved to a different state to find a job in a church that would affirm his calling.

I could no longer get married in the church I grew up in. I was now an “issue” in the church, “divisive,” “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Former youth group members tried to “lovingly correct” my theology on Facebook, and people told me they loved me even if they disagreed with my “politics and theology.” My very being was now a stance to disagree with.

I am not leaving the United Methodist Church because of my sexuality, or because of your stance on it. There are over 140 LGBTQ+ clergy in the UMC, including an openly lesbian, married bishop named Karen Oliveto, whose consecration is currently being debated by the Judicial Council. LGBT people exist and thrive in United Methodist congregations all around the world, whether or not we are welcomed.

But I am leaving you, and the threatened schism over sexuality and gender was the final straw.

Maybe leaving makes me a coward. There is a constant debate in my head: how can I leave the UMC, when I could stay and fight the good fight for my peers and for future generations? How can I stay in the UMC, when my sexuality is not the only thing that defines me?

Here is what else defines me: the call I felt when I was seventeen and still do not fully understand. The group text with the friends I met in Sunday school when I was nine. Eleven months in eleven countries and eight months in a state so different from Texas it might as well be a different country. How you taught me to love with open hands and moving feet and a broken heart, strangely warmed by the Spirit.

Do you see how badly I want to stay? Do you see why I can’t?

How difficult it is, to lose a love like you. There are thousands of whispered prayers and lightbulb moments and layers upon layers of grace between us. Communion will always taste sweet like Hawaiian bread and grape juice.

//

Here is fair warning: I’m going to be your psycho ex. I am going to stalk your Instagram and read every article about you. You were the church that taught me how to love, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully divest from you.

But in three weeks, two days after my twenty-third birthday, I’ll be confirmed in the Episcopal Church.

Last Sunday, I preached at Saint Margaret’s, the Episcopal church where I’ve worked for the past eight months. For the first time in my life, I stood confidently behind a lectern. I did not shake. I talked about resurrection.

Later, the dean at St. Mark’s asked me how it felt. The truth, which I did not say to him, is that it felt like home. It cut me raw in that moment: for all the excuses I could use to leave the UMC, the truth is that we truly no longer fit together.

I love you, United Methodism. But I need to go home now.

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Living in Intentional Community (Lenten Post #3)

I live right across the parking lot from Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral in Seattle and the church that sponsors the Seattle Service Corps. This month, I got to write an article for their quarterly magazine about my experience in the program so far. Here’s the beginning, but you can read the rest of it by following the link below:

It’s been almost six months since I drove across the country with all my worldly possessions in the back of my car, and walked into the nave of Saint Mark’s in search of my new community. Six months of youth ministry, of self-discovery, of community dinners, of trying to decode Episcopal language and Pacific Northwest culture, of crying and laughing until I cry. It’s been six months of falling in love. 

Read the rest of the article here: SSC Article_Spring Rubric 2017

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Bookshelf: Books That Have Made Me Cry Recently (Lenten Post #2)

I was toying with the title of this post. While all the books I list here have made me ugly-cry, they are also all by women, and in some way they all deal with the unique challenges of womanhood. They do so beautifully and I cry a lot, okay, hence the title.  Go ahead and count this as my reading list in honor of International Women’s Day as well, though.

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this is how I spent International Women’s Day

Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World by Amy L. Peterson Peterson tells the story of her year as an English teacher and missionary in a closed country in Southeast Asia, which ended with her visa being revoked and her friends being questioned by the police. It’s a reflection on the evolution of American missions, on faith, and on healthy cross-cultural interactions. I highlighted something pretty much every chapter.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay Honestly, if you’re not reading Roxane Gay yet, what are you doing? These essays range from pop culture critiques to literary criticism to personal narratives and they are all so. good.

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson That girl from Matilda wrote a memoir. Actually, it’s more of a collection of essays about growing up, accidental and fleeting fame, and figuring out your place in the world. One essay, about Mara being diagnosed with OCD, made me cry ALL THE TEARS.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison This collection of essays examines the place of pain and empathy in our culture, and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and fascinating.

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe A teenage girl has a psychotic break, and her semi-absent father decides to take her on a trip to Lithuania to learn about his grandmother’s home and their shared roots. This novel is a coming-of-age tale with a twist. It deals with mental illness, messy family dynamics, and a surprising amount of Lithuanian history. Rufi Thorpe also wrote The Girl From Corona del Mar, which you should also read.

What I’ve Been Reading Around the Internet

Women in Power | Mary Beard on women, power, and Greek myths

Anxiety for Highly Productive People | Laura Turner’s new column on anxiety and productivity

Perdition Days: On Experiencing Psychosis | Esme Weijun Wang from when The Toast was still running, RIP

Life and Breath: On Pregnancy and the Spirit World | Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes on witnessing death and creating new life

Ash Wednesday (Lenten Post #1)

Lent is my favorite season of the liturgical year. It’s about lament, and remembrance, and crying out for justice, and preparing a way for the Lord when a savior still seems far off. Ash Wednesday, especially, gives me hope even as it reminds me that everything I strive for will someday go back to dust. 

This year, I’ve decided one of my Lenten practices will be posting here every week. However, today, I have nothing to say that the Book of Common Prayer hasn’t already said for me, so I would encourage you to read the Litany of Penance below and let its words speak to you (especially all my non-Episcopal friends).

Litany of Penitence

Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and
strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We
have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved
your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the
pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation
of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those
more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and
our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to
commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our
indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our
neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those
who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of
concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

White Christians, We Need To Get Out Of The Way

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A year ago today, I jumped into the Zambezi River and swam to the edge of Victoria Falls.

This time last year, I was living in a 3-room house in Zambia with 12 other people and sharing a twin mattress with a teammate. I stood in a dirt-floored church and prayed for people who lived in a slum with only one water spigot. I stood in a church that met in a classroom and cried as a woman named Juliet sang with the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard, a voice that filled me up, that is still echoing somewhere inside my heart.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know where I come from.

//

This year, I called my senators about Betsy DeVos’s nomination for Secretary of Education. I got a nasty virus and didn’t get out of bed for a week. I watched my roommate and my youth and my friends and family march in Women’s Marches across the nation, and I was so freaking proud. They posted pictures of their signs and the thousands of people marching around them.

Some of my other friends posted pictures of women, too. The women in these pictures were not marching. Sometimes they had faces, but mostly their backs were turned. They were doing laundry, cooking, turned away from the camera, immersed in the vital work of everyday life.

I don’t know the names of the women in the pictures, nor their stories or hometowns. They live in developing countries around the world- somewhere vaguely South Asian, somewhere vaguely South American. Their house and clothes, you are supposed to understand from the picture, means they are not rich, not privileged, actually oppressed.

It’s the words that went along with the pictures that made me cry. Stop whining, they said. Stop marching for equality when someone else has it so much worse off than you. We are so blessed in America. You’re forgetting the women in other countries who have problems that actually matter. Don’t forget about real oppression.

//

An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. 1 out of 6 American women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Native American women are assaulted or raped at even higher rates- 1 out of 3 Native women will be assaulted in their lifetime. Out of every 1,000 rapes, 6 rapists will be incarcerated.

But, America is the ideal to strive for.

White women earn 79 cents on the dollar of what white men earn. African-American women earn 60 cents on every white man’s dollar, Latina women 55 cents. That means for every $5 earned by a white man, at best a woman can earn less than $4 for the exact same work.

But, we’re not oppressed, we’re blessed.

In 2015, 13.5% of Americans were in poverty according the U.S. Census Bureau. 14.5 million of those in poverty were children under the age of 18. That’s 19.7% of American children, or 1 of out of every 5.

But, we have nothing to march for.

When Christians go on mission trips, they do it because they are trying to heal a deep brokenness they see in the world. But these same Christians who claim to be for women, who want to make disciples of all nations, will post pictures of women without even asking their permission, and use them to prove a political point.

Stop doing this.

Stop using poor women as political capital to silence other women.

The women who marched on Washington did it for the women in those photos- the ones who don’t get the dignity of names or stories or being more than a stereotypically impoverished background to some crappy theology. The feminist movement is not perfect, but it is for equality, even if the struggle for equality looks wildly different in every country, in every race, in every class, in every life.

Our liberation is bound up together.

While we may need a new theology of missions to go along with it, we can improve both America and the world, if we are willing to do the slow work of excavating our privilege and listening to the voiceless we so often like to speak for. We, as in: white feminists. We, as in: white evangelical Christians. We, as in: those ready to spit in the face of empire, and weed out the colonial tendencies in our own hearts.

But we can’t do it divided. We can’t do it while we are colonizing certain women’s narratives, and using them to shut down the stories of others. We can’t do it while we are only using poor women in developing nations as props, and imposing a single, convenient, impoverished story onto countries with thousands of years of history and hundreds of years of colonialism running deep in the soil.

We can speak truth to power. We can give a platform to the voices of the powerless. But we, the powerful, the white, have to get out of the way.

//

This time last year, I was trying to tell a good story about the women I met. I don’t know if I ever did a good enough job. I’m telling you this because I want you to know I am part of the problem.

But Juliet’s voice is still echoing inside my heart, singing a hymn of praise in Bemba, and somewhere in God’s expansive universe I am still at the edge of the world with one hand stretched out into the open sky, the current rushing around me, and I am praying.

The Second Annual Reading Round-Up

Welcome to my very un-democratic list of my favorite reads of 2016!

This year, my reading skewed towards non-fiction (I read a ton of memoirs), which is pretty unusual for me. The fiction I read tended to be re-reads of favorite books, I guess because I was traveling for most of the year and hanging out with favorite characters felt kind of like being home for a while.

As I said last year, there are people who get paid to read new books and make “the best of 2016” lists, but I am not one of them. I read old and new books, and I have Opinions about all of them.

A Very Long And Boring Book I Get To Brag About Reading

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Non-fiction (Miscellaneous)

A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking by Adam Briggle – This was written by a philosophy professor at the University of North Texas who found himself almost inadvertently caught up in the anti-fracking movement in Denton, Texas.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer – Prepare for a feminist rage spiral from page one.

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivens – A New York Times reporter who covered Katrina from New Orleans returns ten years later to trace the recovery (or lack thereof) of New Orleans and it’s surrounding areas.

The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollary Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan – Okay, this is my obligatory baseball book. If you’re a baseball fan, you know that Tommy John surgery is painful, only sometimes successful, and on the rise. This book delves into why pitchers’ elbows have become tiny time bombs, and how doctors, managers, and players are trying to stop it. You kind of wish it wasn’t so well-written when he starts describing exactly what happens during a Tommy John surgery.

Memoirs

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – While grieving her father’s death, Macdonald begins to train a goshawk. This book was hyped by pretty much everyone when it came out, and for good reason.

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi – Part literary criticism, part memoir, so pretty much exactly up my alley.

Surviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of America by Leslie Leyland Fields

Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor – This  is a joint memoir of a mother and daughter’s trip to Greece. Maybe I was just missing my mom a lot but it was heart-wrenching. Ann (the daughter) is wandering through her last year of college, trying to find a direction in life, and Sue (the mother) is coming to terms with aging and trying to write a story about a girl who is visited by a swarm of bees. (That story eventually becomes The Secret Life of Bees, which, bonus recommendation, is one of my all-time favorite books.)

The Liars Club and Lit by Mary Karr

Fiction

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Girls From Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe – This might be my favorite book I read this year. It focuses on the enduring friendship between two women, starting when they were teenagers in California. By turns heartfelt and shocking, I thought about it for weeks after I finished- the language is that beautiful, and the story that affecting.

YA Fiction (These Are Actually The Only YA Books I Read But They Were All That Good, Okay)

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen – I’ve been reading Sarah Dessen books since I was 12, and her newest is my favorite so far.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – While it does fall into the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope at times, this book is a great, fast read. Also there’s a twist that made my mom throw the book across the room.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – One of the most honest stories about grief and mental illness I’ve ever read. I cried ALL THE TEARS.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – Art! Sibling rivalry! Affairs! Mysterious cute boys! LGBT main characters!

Christian (Because I’m One Of Those)

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor – This is about experiencing the sacramental in everyday life, and one of the reasons I ended up applying to the Episcopal Service Corps.

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist – I read a lot of books about food and God, and this list reflects that.

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sarah Miles – An atheist left-wing journalist was perfectly content until she took communion, met Jesus, and then did something about it. IT’S GREAT.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes of a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield – Again, I cried all the tears.

So Nice I Read ‘Em Twice (Notable Re-Reads)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – read while in Swaziland (on the continent of Africa), so bucket list item= checked

Finding the Game by Gwendolyn Oxenham – This is a memoir that goes along with the documentary Pelada, about pick-up soccer around the world.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The Ministry of the Kitchen Sink

Hey y’all! Today I’m over at the Seattle Service Corps blog, writing about what serving my community looks like these days. You can read my latest post there, and make sure to read all of my roommates posts because they are pure gold.

Here’s the beginning. You can read the rest of the post here.

The other night we were sitting around the table eating sweet potatoes, and Jon was telling a story.

It’s the kind of story that doesn’t resolve; it’s sacred, an honor to carry alongside him, but heartbreaking to hear. It made me angry and sad for him, and I wanted him to know how much he was loved, tell him about the grace I have found in his friendship.

I got up to do the dishes, in the silence that followed his story. I collected the plates.