essays, faith

Voice of the box

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.”

Sounds familiar!

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.”

I’ve been both and more. In some ways, I used to hold the same views or labels or things in common with others, and we both moved apart. In other situations, they didn’t know or didn’t understand the full extent of my differences because I tried to force myself to fit as part of something bigger. Agreeing to disagree on things that I just didn’t want to be alone in. Not wanting to cause drama or conflict, not wanting to rock the boat or be The Problem. So many times, I didn’t push back or dare to share my real self because it would have risked the relationships I was desperate to hold on to. I chose to lose parts of myself, to silence myself into goodness and compliance, rather than shatter under the ache of grief, exclusion, loneliness, fear, and depression. The catch, of course, is that those were just magnified later with the more I lost and the more people I convinced I was someone I wasn’t to earn their approval.

In still other ways, I’ve had to pick my battles to keep collaborating and doing work together with people who held different views than I did. I believed in the overall cause or shared values or was left without a better-fitting team when no one else was doing the work, so I had to fit into what I had available to me to get the job done. To some degree, these things are healthy and just part of living peacefully together in a society or group.

But there are some parts of me that were never going to fit and I wasn’t welcome to try. Some parts that others don’t even let you in the door if they know about. Today, at this moment, my inclination is “good riddance. I wouldn’t want to be part of their number anyway if they think like that.” But inside, a smaller, quiet, wounded voice says, “Yes, but wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t think that way? Wouldn’t it have been lovely if there weren’t these barriers for entry or exclusionary signs at the door and they wanted all of the facets of you, not just the ones they identify with?”

Jeff goes on to hit on a (literally therapeutic) point for me: Chanequa “knows the goodness of those facets. She is rooted in their richness. And I wonder whether the knowledge of that goodness, that rootedness, is what could open you up to new possibilities for relationship. You’re not looking for affirmation or acceptance or approval in the way that perhaps you might have before because you don’t need it.”

Sarah adds: “You’re abiding in your belovedness.”

It feels like a bit of a cruel trick that the answer to finding the connection and belonging we are wired to desire is to stop working so hard to get them. To know all the parts of you are already good while also not needing that knowledge imparted constantly through others’ validation. Again, as an Enneagram 3, I am quite good at (there’s that word again!) being good enough, holding up that measuring stick to myself, trying to see if I fit into a shape in the box and, as Chanequa says, wondering how much of myself I lose when I do so. Achieving and approval seeking and looking for affirmation have a reason behind them, and that reason isn’t vanity or ego or selfishness. It’s loneliness. It’s “fitlessness” as Chanequa calls it. It’s that search for belovedness and belonging.

So to hear and know that what it takes is to stop, to be still, to not need it, to accept ourselves and belong to our whole stories… that is both beautifully freeing and incredibly discouraging. I am powerless to engineer belonging. My belovedness doesn’t give me a way of certainty and control outside of vulnerable concepts like trust and faith. Even writing it, part of me doesn’t really believe it. Surely, what I need is a better strategy, to just say and do the right thing to achieve the right numbers so others will see me and love me and invite me into belonging? No?

The implication between the lines of “who told you that you have to fit?” is “the voices telling you this are likely not voices you should heed.” The key here being that we don’t only grieve the ways we have lost our belonging or been denied it altogether, but that we see the goodness in our various parts. We must hear a different voice that tells us who we are, where we belong, to whom we are beloved—as our whole selves, without shame and fear and masking our unwelcome angles.

Abiding in authenticity, with all the good, beautiful, beloved angles of our shape.

essays, faith

So far, so good

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.

wildflowers
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com
essays, faith, Mental health, queer

For those whose bodies are policy issues

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.

Continue reading “For those whose bodies are policy issues”
essays, faith

Homesick

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.

Sometimes what hurts is that we know we don’t belong here, not forever. We were made for the Garden, for full communion with God, but here on earth? It’s easy to wonder if God is real at all. And if he is, what are we doing down here? Sometimes we look around and we see so much wrong with the world and feel so disconnected from the people in it, we might feel like we’re almost aliens, that we don’t belong here.

I know what it feels like to be deeply rooted in a place that just doesn’t feel like home. I know what it is like to be new in town, to not know a single soul in my city, over and over as I have moved across the country. I know what it’s like to be Too Much or Not Enough, to feel like an outsider. As a queer woman, I know what it’s like to wonder if I’m the only one or if there is someone out there like me, to be different in a room where everyone else fits in, to have people disagree with unchangeable parts of my identity. To be told I don’t belong and never will.

Those places don’t feel like home. Those places can make the world not feel like home.

These old places promise they will feel like home if only we change who we are, if only we turn away from God’s call on our lives to be more palatable, to be their definition of successful or holy or perfect. Drunk on our own power and consumed with the worries of this life.

It is a lie. The harder we try to be something we’re not, the more the ache grows.

And yet! And yet, we’re not idle in our waiting for the coming of our Lord. Our homesickness doesn’t freeze us into inaction. We move forward, serving and befriending, loving and being loved. Creating a makeshift home for the homesick.

We stand as greeters at the exits from those aching places, instead ushering all who long for true belonging out into the wilderness, outside the strict boxes for what constitutes “fitting in.” If you are done contorting yourself to fit in, if your homesickness is eating at you, longing for a better world, come. Come to the tables in the wilderness and join the preparations for the feast of anticipation.

And so we wait, homesick for a place we have always known but never been, filled with the ache of longing, but lonely no longer in the communion of saints before us and with us and to come. We are not alone in our waiting.

Our hearts may break as we look to the empty skies, and we cry “How long, Oh Lord?” but our homesickness, our grief intertwined with hope for a coming day, doesn’t keep us from calling out to our fellow misfit neighbors to wait with us in the wild places, the places we can belong as our true selves, in a hint of the freedom and glory that is to come. We are called into belovedness, into Kingdom-belonging. Take a stand and raise your heads! Our redemption, our King, is drawing near. 

This was originally written for Redlands United Methodist Church, November 28, 2021.

faith, queer, resources

A prayer for a misused name/pronoun

By Rev Naomi Miller, Church of the Apostles, Guelph. Thank you, Rev. Miller, for letting me share this here!

Image description: As we celebrate Pride Month, it may be that someone you know and love has asked you to address them by a new name, or to speak about them using different pronouns. These changes in language can be difficult–especially because so much of our relational language is gendered. Mistakes happen. And trying (again) matters. God so often calls people by name. And throughout scripture, names have special significance. To call someone by the correct name is an act of love, as is using correct pronouns. When we get it wrong, advice from transgender advocates is: Don’t make it about you and how hard it is to change. Just apologize, correct, and carry on. Then practice, and get it right next time.

O God,

You know me by my name.

You know <name> by <pronoun> name.

Let the words I use when I speak to <name> and about <pronoun> show my love for <pronoun>.

asexuality, essays, faith, queer

Side A. Celibate. Asexual. Queer.

Asexuality is not the same as celibacy. Lots of asexual people do have sex. Asexuality is about attraction, not behavior.

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. No shade to those who hold that belief. This is about celibacy (vocation) and asexuality (orientation).

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.

More on asexuality here.

faith, queer, resources

Queer theology and the Bible

Usually, when someone becomes affirming, it is because they have seen the bad fruit of non-affirming theology. They know you can judge a tree by its fruit, and the fruit of the Spirit are useful tools for discernment. They usually know someone who is queer or know of them in some circle of proximity. They want to love their neighbors, and see that God is love, and can no longer support the theology of fear, hate, exclusion, suffering, and death they have previously been told is correct. They have usually had some sort of awareness (whether through gender or abuse or promises that never panned out or science or a thousand other things) that what is “traditional” in the church is not always what is faithful, best, or loving. At some point, they have to ask, “Is this really what the Bible says about LGBTQIA+ people? Is this really what God wants for his people and his church? If this is orthodoxy, what does that say about the gospel? Can I keep my faith and love my neighbor?”

Continue reading “Queer theology and the Bible”
aromanticism, asexuality, faith, queer, resources

Queer podcasts

A few podcasts around queerness, queer faith, and aromanticism and asexuality. For my own podcast appearances, see Podcasts.

Queer – general

  • Queery
  • Making Gay History

Queer Christian

Search for these on your favorite podcast-listening platform!