Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Advocacy Spectrum

While I was at the Gay Christian Network conference, I got the chance to meet with Jake, one of the coordinators of the @FaithinFerguson / Theology of Ferguson twitter feed.  Jake called me today to chat, and we got to talking about advocacy and activism and the difficulty of figuring out where people "are".

In any social justice issue -- #BlackLivesMatter, LGBTQ welcome in churches, anything in between -- there is a spectrum of advocacy.  Some people are just beginning to learn about the issue and how it relates to who they are.  Some people are ready to storm the gates of political and religious oppressive systems.  And there are a whole host of people in between.  It's hard sometimes, especially when you are trying to get Very Big Things Done, that there are people just at the beginning of understanding.

As Jake and I chatted, I sketched and doodled, and then after the phone call I tweeted a first draft to him -- the Advocacy Spectrum.

I focused on advocacy/activism around LGBTQ issues (because sometimes being more specific makes a metaphor easier to manage), and here is what I drew:

The PEDESTRIAN:  Just beginning to come out.  Not ready to ride.  Still a lot to discover!

The CYCLIST:  Coming out to safe people, beginning relationships and advocacy.  Not safe yet to be "out in traffic" for emotional, financial, etc reasons.

CAR:  Autonomous!  Safe to be out.  Self-supported.  Out in all or most areas of life.

BUS:  Advocates & allies working together in the same direction.  "Riders" are out in most/all situations.

SEMI:  A smaller group of advocates and activists moving big ideas forward.

MOTORCYCLES:  Nimble and fast.  Cutting edge ideas and hopes.  Intimidating in groups!

Some additional commentary:
- Everyone is going at their own pace, but all are moving in the same direction.
- Not everyone starts as a Pedestrian.  I was extremely lucky and grew up in a family & a church that supported me in my sexuality and faith, so I would say I came out right onto a bus.  That gives me incredible advantage and privilege over those who had to start with walking, and work through the very difficult process of getting to a safe enough point to come out.
- Once you're "on the road", there's no objective benefit to a Car or a Bus or a Semi or a Motorcycle.  Some people like the speed of Harleys.  Some people wanna work together on public transit.  None of these are "better" than another -- they're all different ways, with different benefits and drawbacks, of getting to the same place.

I tweeted this image out earlier and got some fantastic feedback.  So far:

Your turn.  What would you add?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gay Christian Network post the second: "How Dare You"

I wasn't entirely certain I wanted to go to the Gay Christian Network conference.

I've been gay and Christian for almost fourteen years, since I came out at age 16.  I found my way to the Gay Christian Network ( like many of its members -- by googling "gay and Christian."  Back in the very early days of my web- and soul-searching, I didn't see anything at GCN that I wanted.  They primarily had message boards and articles detailing what it meant to be a "Side A" or a "Side B" Christian.

I wasn't interested.  I'd been raised in a home, a congregation, and a denomination that had taught me there was no conflict between my faith and my sexuality.  I wasn't interested in spending time reading (and then debating!) people who believed otherwise.  So I closed my Netscape Navigator window and moved on.

I promise you, it was this long ago.
Now, ten or more years later, I'd periodically see a Facebook status or blog post from GCN, and the comments were often the same -- Side A and Side B Christians going at it, fighting with each other, Scripture sticks and psychological assertions flying.  No, thank you.

Then Rachel Held Evans tweeted, months ago, that the GCN Conference was a more expansive alternative to evangelical conferences (like the most recent ERLC Conference on "the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" which, stupidly but unsurprisingly, had no openly gay presenters).  I am always touched by Evans' support for the LGBTQ community.  But I was troubled by this idea that GCN, which I saw as war-torn and dichotomous, would be a safe space for others.

Then my friend Dianna also tweeted about it.

So I tweeted back.  I asked, honestly, if GCN was safe.

This is when I re-learned one of the Cardinal Rules of the Internet:  never trust the comments.

I was immediately responded to, not by Rachel or by Dianna, but by someone I'd never met named Lindsey.  The same Lindsey who'd written (and I'd seen this flying around Twitter) "The sermon I wish had been preached at ERLC", a beautiful exploration of sexuality in the Scriptures.

After some very honest back-and-forth, Lindsey (and partner Sarah) had not only convinced me to go to the conference but offered to include me on their registration so my fees would be covered.

This ... from a couple that has been blogging for a year about their call to celibacy.

I was skeptical at first.  This seemed like an expensive but possibly effective conversion strategy - get me to show up for GCN and then sell me on all the benefits of celibacy.  (Let's be real.  It's not like I haven't had dates that've made me consider it.)  But as days and weeks went by, and Lindsey and Sarah and I continued talking not only on Twitter but also by email and gchat, some things became clear:

1.  They have spent an incredible amount of time reflecting on their individual calls to celibacy, on their own faith journeys, on the Scriptures and traditions of the church.
2.  They have spent an incredible amount of time reflecting on their partnered call to celibacy, and what they want their home together to be like in order to reflect previously established models of celibate communal living.
3.  They had absolutely no plan to convert me.
4.  I had been a judgmental idiot.

I'd been actively avoiding GCN for years, and when it finally snuck into my life it turned out I'd been avoiding a host of beauty and transformation.

At the GCN Conference, I got to hear from Jeff Chu about his hopes for reconciliation with his mother, about the visit where she finally brought chopsticks (a family tradition) for his partner.  I heard from Danny Cortez about leading a congregation into becoming a Third Way church, about supporting his gay son.  And I witnessed Vicky Beeching's first telling of her life story, her travels and travails through the life of faith and sexuality, including her coming out last year.

(These are all online, and they are all amazing.)

And I met amazing people.  Stephen, Sarah, Justin, Andrea, Rosemary, Eliel, Michael, Matthew, Jake.  Finally met Lindsey and Sarah and Dianna all in person.  There were dads with their LGBT kids, moms proudly wearing "Free Mom Hug" buttons for anyone who needed the mom hugs they weren't getting at home.  There were teenagers holding hands, couples over sixty.  There were trans people.  People of color.  Straight people, gay people, every shade in between.

Nobody wanted to convert me to anything.  We just wanted to be together.  We wanted to be in a space where we could finally be who we are, and worship there.  We wanted to tell our stories, broken and stumbling as they are, and hold each other's hands and cry together.

Looked like the kingdom of God up in there.

I live-tweeted Lindsey and Sarah's breakout session on celibacy.  Because their life together is fucking beautiful -- and I use that language because people came at me for tweeting about it.  As a result of tweeting their session, I was drawn into angry conversations on Twitter with logical fallacies a-plenty about how GCN was giving a platform to a harmful theology.

Most of the other sessions were Side A-focused.  The three keynote speakers who are gay are also in relationships.  And Sarah and Lindsey have been and were and will continue to be clear that their celibacy is in response to a call, not a mandate, and that they do not ever declare it required for other LGBTQ Christians.

If I have to take sides, I'm a Side A girl.  Have been and will continue to be.  I will continue, till I take my own seat in the kingdom in heaven, to fight for my chair at the table of the kingdom on earth.  I will continue to fight for equal marriage rights, for health care coverage for trans individuals, for ordination for LGBTQ people across the board.  When a teen or young adult or married person or whoever comes to me in fear and trembling about their sexuality and their faith, I will not suggest celibacy as a first stop.  And I will continue to engage in debate and discussion with Side B Christians who insist (unlike Lindsey and Sarah) that their way of life is the only way for LGBTQ people of faith.

But I have been pushed beyond judging the lives of others.

Asked to, I will walk with anyone.  I will listen.  I will ask questions.  I will notice patterns, be unafraid of tension, reflect back what I have heard.  I am learning not to assume that everyone is sick or out to get "me and those like me."  I am called to do so, by my baptism and my someday-ordination.

There are many ways to live a life.  Some are borne of devastation and pain and self-hatred, and they reflect that, and when invited I will walk into those places and speak the truth I know about gospel freedom and grace.

But there are many ways to live a life that are borne of deep wrestling and heavy prayer and many dark nights of the soul.  Many of those lives do not look like mine.  Many of those calls are not mine.  I have learned to say no to lives and habits that are not life-giving to me, while recognizing that they can be for others.  And invitations to witness those lives are a deep blessing, and I will rejoice in them.

That is why I can go to GCN.  Why I can love Lindsey and Sarah deeply.  Why I can sit at a table with the executive of the Marin Foundation and order another drink and talk till 2am.  Their stories, their hopes, their life trajectories are not mine.  But they know that, and I know that, and we care for each other's stories and calls fiercely.

Most days I cannot believe that we will all end up in the kingdom of heaven and no one will be kicking anyone else under the table.  The Gay Christian Network conference was not perfect, but it was a hint of what that might look like.  It made me believe a little more.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Gay Christian Network post 1: Why I'm Here

At this moment, I am at the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland, OR.  This is my first GCN conference, and I have so many thoughts, y'all.  So many.  I'm decompressing in my hotel room right now, after being awake for 21 hours straight yesterday and Being Around People this whole time.  I have a running list of things to blog about when I get back.  (It helps that I'm rooming with the fabulous Dianna E. Anderson and running around with the amazing Ben Moberg -- two incredible writers and people.)  But while I've been decompressing, I've been musing on one thing I wanted written sooner rather than later.

Gay Christian Network is not "my people," really.  It's primarily a movement out of the evangelical tradition, which is a place I sojourned but never stayed.  Visible leadership is primarily white, cisgender, and male.  And GCN as a whole was originally conceived (and continues today) as a place for gay Christians to come together and be family -- whether they are "Side A" or "Side B".

This terminology of A and B is Gay Christian Network specific, and refers to two views (a somewhat limited dichotomy, but work with it for now) of human sexuality.  "Side A" opinions fall into the camp of believing that God can and does bless same-sex relationships (and, although less focus falls on this, living "out" as a trans* person).  "Side B" is primarily composed of people who believe that to be faithful and LGBT, one must be celibate.

Side A and Side B, as you might imagine, get into fights quite often.  Side A accuses Side B of being backward, oppressive, internalized homophobes.  Side B can question Side A's religiosity and righteousness.  I've witnessed the back-and-forth on GCN's online community (particularly in comments on blog posts) and have stayed away.

This year I took my hesitancy public and posted on Twitter that I wasn't sure GCN was a good conference to promote because of this infighting.  I was then contacted by Lindsey and Sarah of A Queer Calling.  They're a couple, and they're celibate -- their God-given calling is celibacy.  And they said, "You need to see this place for yourself.  Let us help you get there."

And here is what I can tell you, gentle readers:  they were right.  Whatever the comment sections and Twitter feeds might suggest, this place is beautiful.  The leaders and speakers of GCN are offering to us, over and over, the opportunity to come together and experience the fullness of God and of ourselves, in brave recognition that we do not agree, that Side A and Side B (and Side C, D, and Z) have a place at the same communion table.  And we are responding.  We believe them -- we are desperate to believe that there is a way to be together.

So I need to be here.  Yes, I have a hermeneutic of suspicion around evangelicalism.  Yes, I twitch when worship leaders "just wanna" pray to "Father God."  Yes, I raise my eyebrows at leadership roles primarily filled by cis white men.  But I am discovering that these things are not the core of what matters, right now.

That is what I am seeing instead: raw hunger. 

I forget about this hunger, because long ago I decided to fight for and keep my place in the small community of mainline Protestant Christians who welcome me as an openly gay woman.  I have a church, a denomination, a family, a wide swath of friends, past relationships (and future ones?) where my faith and my sexuality were acknowledged and celebrated.  My hunger gets fed every week at worship and over coffee and in the hundreds of other ways that I get to be fully me.

I don't go hungry.  But so many do.  So many LGBTQ people of faith have no worship home, no family, no friends to go to and feel fully themselves.

There are people at this conference experiencing, for the first time, speakers who give thanks for God and for their same-sex spouses in the same prayer.  There are people at this conference seeing, for the first time, a worship leader with a rainbow guitar strap.  There are people at this conference hearing, for the first time, a word of apology from pastors who once preached conversion therapy.  And so many people who have struggled with how to reconcile their faith and their sexuality are offered -- for the very first time -- a myriad of ways they can be integrated, a table spread full of God's offerings for a full life.

The hungry are being fed.

There is a deep loneliness that can come from faithful queerness.  I am watching that darkness be struck with light.

I do not agree with everyone who speaks at GCN.  Not all of them speak of God exactly as I would.  Not all the songs we sing are ones that play the chords of my heart.  There are hungers still unfed, like safe spaces for all to worship in their own towns, and discussion of trans* issues on a conference-wide scale, and more minorities in leadership.  And I am tired.  But it is a holy exhaustion, in a beautiful place, surrounded by hungry people who are finding seats at God's table.

Join us.

Friday, November 21, 2014

New Project: Interactive Alternative Worship

An update!

Along with shelving books, writing curriculum, updating websites for a couple local nonprofits, causing trouble with my soul-brother Eric, and blogging about online dating, I have ALSO (my housemates say:  "can you slow down, please?!") been working on a website called Interactive Alternative Worship.

The vision behind IAW is to collect and curate an assortment of ideas about how to bring participatory, creative, alternative, and intergenerational aspects into worship settings that are interested in trying something "new", but not sure where or how to begin.

I've got posts up for Thanksgiving (and lots of people have said they'll try it!) and Advent, and I think there's been enough interest that I'll start generating and finding ideas for Epiphany.

Hey is for Horses: Dating with Faith (or, Is Jesus the Reason for the Teardrops on My Guitar ? )

I've been on the ministry track in one way or another since age fourteen.  I've also been openly gay since 16.  These two things combined have colored my dating life, and that's been just as true online as it is in person.

Dating in the queer community as a Christian is obviously tricky.  The combined set of "Christian" and "queer" is small.  I had a really fantastic evening where a waitress hit on me and then went with me and friends to a local lesbian bar/dance night... and once she found out what I did, she was no longer interested.  I can understand and appreciate that, but of course it was a disappointment (how great of a story is it to say you got a date with your cute waitress?!).

And, unfortunately, the Lutheran and queer community is small, so when a relationship doesn't work out, there can be a heartbreaking loss of community.  There are churches and other spaces that are no longer available to me because my ex is there.  But I've made my peace with that, and I hope that others can too.

As far as cross-faith relationships:  Dianna's post on this is really excellent.  Cross-faith relationships absolutely can work, and I've witnessed some beautiful and life-changing ones.  It's all about (as Dianna will tell you) knowing yourself and your faith, and being able to ask open and honest questions of the person you're dating.

Dating as a seminarian / pastor adds another layer of complication (and one quite a few of my Tumblr readers have wanted to hear about).  Some of my dear pastoral colleagues are also on OKC, and we've discussed our own timelines for revealing our profession:

* Waiting until you meet:  The advantage is that you get to introduce yourself to someone, and show your passions and personality, without any prejudices or stereotypes they might have about pastors.  I've had friends who've done this to great success (one is married now!).  On the downside, your date might feel blindsided by the news, especially if you haven't talked about issues of faith at all, and extra-especially if you're dating in the queer community.  There are plenty of biases about pastors, from ultra-conservative to uber-corrupt to sexually backward, and my personal preference is to give my date a chance to think through those without me watching her face anxiously.

One of my (straight, female, pastor) friends on OKC has noted that her insistence on not sharing her profession until the first in-person meeting has caused her dates to wonder if she's a stripper.  So, there's that.

* Coming out in a message:  This is a nice middle-ground that allows your potential date to process without you watching, and to ask questions that might be hard to ask in person.

* Being "out" in your profile:  I've tried all of the above, and for me, this is the one that fits.  Especially dating in the queer community, I like being upfront.  It creates some really awesome opportunities for conversation (...and some interesting ones as well).  And the very first message I received on OKC was from a girl in Chicago who said, "I think it's awesome that you're going to be a pastor, and I think you're attractive, and if we lived in the same city I'd ask you out."  We ended up talking almost every day for two months and then dating long-distance for three more.  Although it didn't "work out" as a relationship long-term, it was a really great experience in being seen and valued for who I am.

Being a pastor colors my whole life, and to have my girlfriend or partner see how much it means to me (and want to participate in that) is deeply meaningful for me -- maybe even necessary.

Because when a pretty girl texts you from a bar to say she's found a fellow Wesleyan and they're talking about his superiority to Luther, and you're way too delighted that she's this theologically sound to point out that actually Wesley had his heart "strangely warmed" by Luther's commentary on Romans so really Luther takes primacy... least for me, in that moment, dating with faith is so worth it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hey Is For Horses: We Are Never Ever Ever Going to "Hang Out Sometime"

Besides church, curriculum writing, book-shelving, and colluding with my soul-brother Eric to make trouble and shake things up, I attempt to participate in normal life activities from time to time.  Including dating.  Welcome to Hey Is For Horses.  (Don't worry, Mom, I won't say anything I wouldn't say at the dinner table.)

Hey Is For Horses is a simultaneous blogging journey with my friend Dianna.  She's awesome.  Preorder her book on purity culture.  This week she posted about the Worst Date Ever.

Today's topic:  now that you've mastered the art of the message, let's move on to the magical unicorn of online dating -- moving from online to real live in person contact.

We got this, team.  I promise.

* Asking for a date.  Sometimes you get lucky and the other person says "Hey, let's get coffee/drinks sometime."  Rejoice and be glad! yours is the kingdom of the fortunate.

Other than that?  Just be brave.  Go for the ask.  If they're asking questions, responding to your messages, commenting on things you've said, then they're giving some signs that they enjoy your company.  Make a suggestion, make some plans, make it happen.

* Keep it simple.  Drinks out somewhere is a really good start.  If things go well, you can migrate to dinner or gelato or a leisurely stroll around the lake.  If they don't, you've invested maybe an hour, you both go your separate ways, and it's all cool.  I have had extensive first dates (notably a killer local concert; the date was 5 hours) go well, but it's a risk -- if you don't hit it off in person, it's easier to walk away from drinks.

The actual date...

* Dress nicely.  I'm not saying wear a tie (although there are ladies all across the Kinsey spectrum who find that aesthetic appealing, so you can certainly consider it).  Just put some consideration into what you wear.  Show your date you appreciate them by putting on clean jeans and a nice shirt.

* Ask questions.  Make conversation.  

* Flirt (if you want to).  If you like someone you're on a date with... show it.  Square your shoulders towards her.  Smile.  Laugh.  If she says something clever, tell her she's funny.  If she scoots her chair closer to you, when she says something neat, touch her knee for half-a-second.  Don't be weird -- if she's scooting away, then don't pursue!  But if she's giving you Signals That Say She's Interested, then give some back.

Story:  I went on a first date with a girl and had a couple pints at a local brewpub.  We had decent rapport, okay conversation.  But it was like talking to a friend.  She didn't make a lot of eye contact, or appear to want to touch my shoulder or arm or anything, or want to kiss me.  We made plans to get together again.  She texted the next day and said "I really wanted to kiss you last night," which I found really confusing -- she hadn't given me any signals that she found me attractive.  If you like someone, show them!

* Tell the truth.  I have been on a lot of dates in the past year, and telling the truth at the end of them is the part I screw up a lot.  How?  Well...
- If I'm not really feeling it:  I'm bad at communicating this, especially in person.  I spend a lot of time in my ministry life listening to people talk, and I am good at asking questions and being interested on a "oooh, person with a life story" level.  Unfortunately, this means I sometimes appear romantically interested in someone -- and if she's interested in a second date, I feel bad letting her down.  It's been a hard lesson to learn how to say "Thanks, but no thanks."  I have housemates who are experts in giving me the third degree about whatever girl I'm seeing, and demanding that I be honest about my feelings.  Thank goodness.
- If you'd like to see her again:  the sheer terror of this!  But do it anyway.  Reward / risk here, people.  The brave AND polite thing is to say, at the end of the date:  "I've had a really good time.  I'd like to see you again, if you want."  You don't have to make plans right then -- just planning to make them is fine.  

But then... what if she says no?  Dianna and I will get into that next Monday.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Anonymous asked: What draws you to pastoral ministry?

An anonymous question from Tumblr during my attempt at "Ask Away Weds" came in with this:

What draws you to pastoral ministry?

Here's my reply.


There are two core … wait.  Three.  Three core things I get deeply excited about in ministry.

* Scripture.  I am giddy about Scripture.  I have not always been.  I started seminary with a heavy wariness about the Bible, not in small part because as a queer woman it’s been directly quoted against me.  I committed myself to unlearning this.  It’s taken a long time, and it wasn’t pretty, but now I have an almost unrelenting enthusiasm.  There is beauty in there, you guys.  So much beauty, and so many interwoven voices, and such a depth of meaning — this incredible collection of stories of our failures and successes and failures again, and of God’s everpresent love and truth and challenge and hope for us.  It gives me tingles.

But so many people never get to experience that from the Bible.  It’s used as a weapon, or as a standard of “righteousness”, or as a source of guilt if you don’t know enough about it.  So I am hungry, absolutely hungry, to crack open the beauty of the Bible and reveal its richness.  There’s a whole feast in there, if we’d just let ourselves nibble a bit.

* Sacraments.  I want to preside over the communion table.  I have no way to explain this logically.  There is just something in me that has been gripped by the Eucharist, caught like a hook in my heart.  I crave it.  There is something beautiful and phenomenal, literally, that happens in communion, and I do not know how to explain how badly I want to be part of that.

* Truth-telling.  The proclamation of the word of God goes beyond the interpretation of scripture.  It’s about a prophetic and powerful word in every aspect of our lives.  Sometimes that means I listen to someone in pain, and instead of saying “Whenever God closes a door…”  I say “That sucks.  I’m here.  I’ll walk with you.”  That’s a proclamation of truth — that pain is scary but real, and God is present with us in it.

Truth-telling as a proclamation of the word of God also involves looking at systems or people who are acting in ways that oppress, denigrate, or otherwise prevent others from living out their own calling in Christ, and saying, “I get that you’re angry and afraid, but you cannot act like this.”

Just kidding, there are four things.

* Worship.  Coming together in community to hear the word of God and experience the presence of Jesus… this feeds me.  I hunger for it.  I love cultivating weird and quirky things in worship that catch people by surprise and invite them to experience new depths and meaning to scripture and life.