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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Letting the Light In

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” -Leonard Cohen

I realized I was queer in a church. Which is incredibly on-brand for me.

Actually, what I realized was that I couldn’t hide anymore.

In my head, I’d been planning on quietly dating whoever I wanted and never telling anyone, and I’d changed the settings on my dating app accordingly. But standing and listening to the liturgy of the Table, something inside me cracked. I realized that I couldn’t come to the table to receive Christ’s body and blood as anyone other than myself- whole, complete.

When I was little, I had an illustrated children’s Bible. In the story of Jonah, it depicted Jonah trying to hide from God in the hold of the ship- but God finds him there, as the light that shines through the small porthole into the dark room. On that page, the Bible simply said, “But God found him there.”

One Sunday, the choir was singing my favorite hymn, and my new community was moving forward to receive the Eucharist. And I sat in a pew shaking, because God had found me there.

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I’m bisexual. That’s the “B” in “LGBTQIA,” and it means that I’m attracted to both women and men. (There’s no percentage system here, like I’m 50% lesbian now- I am all bi, and always attracted to both men and women, all the time.)

I could tell you how I’ve always known this, deep down. I could tell you how hard I fought to pretend I was only attracted to men for twenty-one years, trying to fool myself more than anyone. I could tell you how the first time I said the words, “I think I’m bisexual,” I was drunk in my friend’s kitchen, scared to death because I was leaving on the World Race in a week, scared of who I was and what even saying those words meant. I could tell you about my gay friends whose nice, Christian families rejected them, and how terrified their stories made me of ever acknowledging my sexuality.

I could tell you how I came out to my roommate, and his face cracked into the widest smile, and I knew things would be okay.

I could tell you about the stacks of books and articles I read and hours of conversations I had in college, rethinking my theology, re-learning what it means to love LGBT people, going back and forth around Scripture and context and the original Greek and Hebrew.

I could tell you about the shame I carried for so long, convinced that there was a part of me that God would never quite love.

But in all of these things I could tell you, there was the light trying to get through.

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I didn’t want to come out on the internet. On top of the fact that it’s super cliche, and literally anyone can read this post anytime, and it’s attached to my name forever- on top of all of this, my sexuality should be none of your business. Should be.

But existing as a queer woman is a political act. Like existing as a a woman, as a person of color, a trans person, a disabled person, is a political act. Our very lives are a threat to the powerful, and our freedom is bound up together.

So, as a queer, female Christian, I felt the need to publicly come out to my communities.

Most of my communities are in the South, the region Flannery O’Connor called “Christ-haunted”; and this Christ-haunted Southern spirituality is woven into who I am and how I understand Jesus and the Bible. Several of my communities are in the Methodist church, and the UMC is currently struggling with how to fully accept LGBT people- people like me. The people and churches who shaped me with their love, their presence, and their faith deserve to know me in the fullness of who God created me to be.

These communities always taught me the mission of the church is bound up with freedom for the downtrodden. Where there is brokenness and cries for healing, there is the Spirit.

And when our response to the cries of the LGBT community is rejection, or silence, we are complicit in their suffering.

Sharing our stories, living together in the wholeness, breaks open the darkness.

Hatred, fear, anything other than love and acceptance- it flees at the light that finds us in the darkness, even the darkness we make ourselves. And so I am trying to push the door open a little wider, let a little more light in, exist in spaces I have not been welcomed to.

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I didn’t want to write this post, because this shouldn’t be anyone’s business.

But I needed to write this, because I cannot come to the table as anything other than who I am. And this is me- bisexual, feminist, left-handed, semi-Episcopalian, Gryffindor. Child of God. Loved, as I am.

Over and over, God has found me hiding, and claimed me yet again.