Today, Sarah Bessey asked her readers on her Substack about all the losses that come with deconstruction/faith evolution. It made me think of a related, often simultaneous loss when that deconstruction is part of coming out as queer:
There’s something I tell queer people when they come out and lose so much (or publicly identify as allies). Yes, you will lose belonging and comfort. Maybe your job, church, friends, family, sense of stable identity, certainty, easy acceptance into your communities, even safety. But by being vulnerable, that courage opens many doors as well. You are not alone in this. You are welcome to grieve together with others who have lost the same. You are now part of a free, inclusive, authentic family. It is so so so painful, and there is so much to mourn and lament in the rage and tears. No, it isn’t fair. Yes, it would have hurt so much less if people saw and loved the full, real you.
I’m honored to introduce you to my friend and former coworker Bekah McNeel. Bekah is an author, journalist, and podcaster (check out our episode together here!) who works tirelessly for those on the margins to have their voices heard and to bring about real change through the power of storytelling. I asked her if she would be willing to share with us her perspective on raising kids in affirming theology and modeling allyship as a parent. Read her wisdom here and then read her book,Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down: A Guide for Parents Questioning Their Faith, which covers many more topics relevant to this community.
Content warning for child abusestory. Start at 3:24 if this is a trigger for you
First, it is a great feeling to be able to understand and process every word from a speaker without needing the captions. That almost never happens. I feel like I actually processed every word!
Aside from speaking skills, this was so healing. And not only as someone with APD but the heart behind it holds several jewels I think we all need to learn from. Dr. Alexander approaches her work in a way that feels more like ministry than many “ministers” we hear about online.
“I know what it feels like … to be imprisoned, but I also know how it feels to be set free.”
This is the crux of it, right from the start. Those of us deconstructing or evolving or just plain leaving conservative and evangelical church traditions know that feeling of being “set aside and dismissed.” Queer people who have lived in the closet know the feeling of being restrained inside that metaphor, of being not only hidden but trapped. Neurodivergent and mentally ill and disabled people know this prison that is their own mind and body. So many of us who resonate with a name like “Invisible Cake Society” have had to work through our traumas while it felt like no one could perceive us and no one would believe us.
Last week when I wrote here about Barbara Brown Taylor’s EF podcast episode, I had no idea that this week’s episode was also going to be so relevant to that post, so we’re doing this two weeks in a row. I used the metaphor of a child’s toy that comes with shapes that correspond to holes in a box. So did Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes in her 2019 Evolving Faith conference talk featured in this week’s episode! It was a perfect part 2 to that topic. She follows up on that moment of recognition and grief over how tired we are of “being good instead of being alive” with a crucial question:
Who told you that you had to fit?
She describes herself as “an ill-fitting Christian. A square peg trying to fit into a round hole, each of the angles representing the diverse religious traditions that shaped my understanding of the Divine.”
But the key is that she doesn’t end there. As Sarah and Jeff discuss at the end of the episode, Jeff says, “For some of us coming to a message like Chanequa’s, the grief of this is that we once did fit and we once really did belong. But for others of us, we’ve never fit and we’ve never belonged, perhaps because of some indelible aspect of our identity. And then there are the folks who have had both experiences.”
The new season of the Evolving Faith podcast debuted this week! I’m so excited for you all to see what this community has up its sleeve for this year. We start off with a bang from the ever-wise Barbara Brown Taylor, revisiting her talk from the 2019 EF conference.
She has this quote in there:
I’m thinking about how tired a tame Christian can get. Tired of self-censoring, tired of swallowing the questions that matter most, tired of putting more energy into being good than being alive.
That line in particular hit me hard. Thus far in my life, I have ultimately been preoccupied with that goodness. Not just the goodness in a sense of being right or moral, the way an Enneagram 1 might, but in the sense of the Enneagram 3. Is this good? Is it meeting your expectations? Is this okay? Am I doing it right? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Is this what you want from me? Is this what we’re scripted to do and be and say? At the root of these is the question of worthiness and earning, achieving belonging by measuring up, adhering those ever-shifting standards of what is expected and required and demanded by a society that rewards those who win at its games.
And some of the games, a few, I can be so good at. I play until I am exhausted. So tired, as Taylor says, of all my energy going into my efforts to hold back and to not be obnoxious or too much, to silence myself.
I do, sometimes, need to silence myself. To exhibit tact and self-control, an overlooked fruit of the spirit. I do need to listen more and center myself less, to plug in to empathy and pass the mic. But I don’t think that’s what this is about.
This is the goodness-instead-of-being-fully-alive decision point. The part where we choose to grit our teeth and nod along, prioritizing approval over authenticity. To “lop off any part of ourselves that falls outside the lines,” as Taylor says in her talk. We try to force belonging and it becomes fitting in, fitting into the box at any cost, even when we have to leave some parts behind.
Of course, there will always be some parts of ourselves that get more airtime in certain spaces or relationships. But what is it costing us when we have to hide entire parts of who we are in our churches, homes, families, friendships, workplaces, and communities because the standard of goodness is a different shape than the shape we occupy?
We are tired. So tired. It’s not always our choice, and for that, we grieve. We grieve for when it is the only choice, and for when it is the best bad option available to us. We grieve for when others can’t see our belovedness and for when we can’t bring ourselves to face it in the mirror.
Taylor says grief sets us on a path to “embrace the full terrain of living.” Fullness beyond goodness. Fullness beyond looking around for confirmation we’re doing it right. Fullness beyond holding back in fear and inauthenticity for the sake of fitting a hole in a box like a child’s toy, made for simple shapes to be granted entry. Stars in the star spot, big hearts in the big heart spot, even ordinary squares in the spot for ordinary squares. And perhaps we’re something else entirely, not simple or familiar to those making the rules of the box.
Or, for a more lively metaphor: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could thrive like wildflowers, decadently ourselves in whatever ways we have the capacity, instead of pruning ourselves back into neat little rows of acceptability and shame and control and the kind of goodness set by those trying to sell us our belovedness in numbers?
There are the numbers of control all around us, from our bodies to our bank accounts, from our square footage to our rank on the ladder, from follower count to test scores. No wonder we are so, so tired. Measuring tape at every turn, held up to determine the size of our lives, whether our shape fits the box’s hole, whether the dimensions we are growing in are acceptable.
You’re not crazy. It’s not just in your head. It’s not all your fault. And sometimes you may not have a choice. But together we can dream of the fields across the terrain where we can throw on our brightest colors, grow in abundance, thrive, and put our energies into being our full selves, fully alive and free.
Today, there is much discussion on embodiment, what it means to show up in a space as your full self, and to be present in your body wherever you are. The topic du jour, in particular, is church attendance. Can we experience the “real” church online?
This got me thinking about how if you’re going to talk about embodied presence, you need to be aware of what it means for someone to show up in their marginalized body, whether in a physical or online space. The risks it takes and the emotional cost it demands.
Homesickness is a funny kind of illness. It sort of hurts all over. In your throat when someone asks the wrong question at the wrong time. In your lungs when a reminder of what you’ve lost takes your breath away. In your core when there’s the gut-punch of knowing what you long for may never come to pass. There’s a desperation to it, when hope and grief intertwine into an ache.
Someday, we know, someday, as our seasonal songs tell us: “The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.” Another tells us, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother! And in his name all oppression shall cease!”
Luke 21:25-36 tells us to be on guard, for your redemption is drawing near. But we wait, we long for the time when all shall be made right, when there will be no more tears or death, no more oppression, or haves and have-nots, no more pandemics or natural disasters or injustice… when the upside-down Kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in heaven.
We wait. We hope. We long, with the deep groaning of the Spirit within us when words fail. It hurts, God. Life hurts so much.
No amount of busyness or responsibility cures clinical depression, anxiety disorders, or neurodivergence. I believe people when they say they “just” needed (a kid, a partner, a job change, spirituality, a move) and now they feel better. But that’s not a cure for our disorders.
Sometimes in life, we do need a change. Whether it’s a weekly “me time” or a crosscountry move or a new business, change can be good. But you cannot outrun your disorder. You can’t out-schedule it or out-perform it or out-laugh it. You can’t fill your life with enough people. You can only face it. Discover your values. Accept what you have been given and commit to living according to those values. Set your boundaries, and unravel your shame. Deconstruct and reconstruct and get help from people qualified and trustworthy to give it.
The only way is through. The only way is honesty with yourself and your past, present, and future. It takes lament and commitment, feeling the pain and not avoiding and learning to be whole while shattered. There is no easy out or clever trick or shortcut.
We take our meds and pay for the help we can afford and research, listen, and grow. We do what’s healthy for us emotionally, mentally, and physically. Knowing sometimes it will be a choice between one or the other. And we forgive ourselves and keep going when we hurt ourselves. We can’t outsmart it, but we find balance in the tumult. Slowly, over time. Like a raging river wearing on a rock.
We pray, “just enough for today, God.” That’s all we need. To keep breathing another day. and eventually, it is easier to breathe some days.
But we never graduate from this. We never achieve enough or get promoted out of a disorder. We can make it work and learn to live with it and do things to reduce it. But those are done in humility, with the step of facing it, saying I cannot hide in fake fine. If you are struggling this month, this year, this lifetime. It’s not too late and it’s not too early. You don’t have to wait until you hit the bottom. You don’t have a lack of will or spiritual weakness or identity of failure; you have a disability.
I don’t know that I’m there yet to be proud of my disabilities, but this #DisabilityPrideMonth, please don’t let anyone tell you that you just haven’t tried hard enough or are not busy enough or have too much time on your hands. You deserve the help you need.
I am also celibate. I consider this a calling in the sense that God made me sex-averse intentionally and for a reason.
Not all asexual people are sex-averse.
My understanding of this vocation is different from those who typically get the microphone in regards to celibacy, talking about a traditional understanding of what gay people must do with their sexuality to be “orthodox.”
I’m Side A. How does this work?
Celibacy should be for those who are personally called to it. It should not be in any way related to your orientation. Straight, bi, pan, queer, ace, gay, whatever… you can be called to celibacy.
Important: This also has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s you and only you.
Side A theology doesn’t reserve any specific restrictions on any orientation. We are all one in Christ Jesus and each individual part of Christ’s body has its own calling. This is why I’m all over the podcast land as a celibate ace telling you to create your own sexual ethic.
Can you be Side A and celibate? YES. There is no sexual liberation without the choice not to have it. Side A doesn’t mean you personally feel called to have sex. It means the Bible is fully affirming of queer relationships and identities including the choice to have sex. Or not!
If anyone tells you you have to be Side B if you’re called to celibacy, here is your sign that that’s a lie. It’s about belief and biblical interpretation. Not behavior.
Stuff like this is why the church needs asexual leadership. We have the vocabulary for this. We need more Christian aces affirmed and heard. We need the church to understand the difference between attraction, behavior, desire, and vocation. Aces can lead. We’re worthy and called.
Remember: We aren’t new. Just erased. Just today I ran across a blog on a queer Christian website acknowledging asexuality as a queer orientation. It was written 21 years ago. We’ve been here. You just haven’t been listening or haven’t had the opportunity because of gatekeeping.
We’re in your churches. We may not know the label (though that’s changing as awareness grows), but we’re there. We might be partnered. But some of us are happily single, and we might be celibate and/or sex-averse. And we have words to describe that array of sexuality and desire.
Give aces a voice and you’ll discover so many keys to this beautiful diversity of God’s kingdom. We can help those called to celibacy and unite in our common goals. We can support singles who need help accepting their vocation to singleness.
We also face queerphobia, often recycled arguments used against bi or pan or gay and lesbian people are used against us, right here on this website every damn day and in churches and elsewhere.
Asexuality is so difficult to see because it is not only against traditional understandings of sexuality (heteronormativity) but also against the assumptions that we can sub in different genders into that traditional understanding (all have sexual attraction = allonormativity).
Asexuality is compatible with the Bible (and so is celibacy) but runs counter to “traditional Christian teaching” that emphasizes being created for heterosexual marriage, aka a lifelong sexual relationship, implying that God gives everyone attraction. So while asexuality and celibacy aren’t the same, we do have shared history.
Theology that only says same-sex marriage is ok without seeing vocational singleness and/or celibacy as holy too is missing it just as much as those who demand celibacy is the only “orthodox” answer for queerness. Both are missing the parallel diversity the ace community provides.
(Meaning that for centuries, asexuality has had to work out whether it is only for those not interested in the acts of sex, behavior, or for anyone without attraction, regardless of behavior. We landed on the latter in recent years. More on this elsewhere.)
So do I need Side A theology for my “pet sins”? Am I just capitulating to the culture to sleep with whoever I want? Am I Side A because celibacy is too hard? Am I going along with sexual trends of “the world”? Nope. I’m ace, single, and celibate. But I’m Side A because I’ve seen the good fruit when everyone is allowed to live out their own unique, God-given identities and vocations and behavior. Asexuality is a form of queerness that reveals anything is possible when we discard the narrow roles normativity would place on us.
So don’t devalue my calling by claiming it’s tied to orientation. Don’t perpetuate myths about asexuals by claiming it’s just “not having sex” or the same as celibacy. That’s not it. But aces and celibate people do have a lot of overlap and goals in common. It’s time to work together, fully affirming each other’s callings.