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.

//

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.

//

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.

//

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.

//

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.

//

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.

IMG_1639

Advertisements

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.

//

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?

//

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.

//

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.

//

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.

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.

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.

//

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.

//

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.

//

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.