The Truth Sets You Free

Today I had to go to DCOM. That is what we United Methodists call our group of people that basically get to confirm or deny whether we get to stay pastors. And as United Methodists our official rule book, the Book of Discipline, states that “practicing homosexuals” cannot be pastors.

Every year the committee requires that we write essays to answer some questions about our ministry. Every year the committee requires that we be interviewed. Every year I come up with clever ways to write that I am queer, without actually saying it. Every year I come up with clever ways to answer questions without mentioning how I disagree with the church’s stance on gay marriage and being a gay pastor. Every year I work myself up because being someone I am not and talking carefully is exhausting.

This year I figured I lost enough that I just ought to be honest. I sent them my essays. I told my truth. I said I was queer clearly in black and white type. I did it. My first step in not hiding was stating it at our Annual Conference last June. I made the Church website as the gay pastor who came out at a microphone.This was another step in not lying, in not hiding.  It was just as scary. I put it off for months. I finally decided I needed to do it. I needed to send the essays in without censoring them. I held them on the desk top of my computer for days even after deciding to go through with writing them and sending them. It seemed like putting in my file a paper that could be used as evidence in a church trial to have me removed was a final straw that was more scary than I could cope with. I talked with my love about it over and over, and then one morning I looked over at him as he was still asleep, snoring next to me. I decided that I couldn’t live this life in secret. I love him too much. I love us too much. I snuck out of bed. I went to the living room, attached those essays in an email, and sent them out to DCOM. Done.

Today was the interview portion. Admittedly I was anxious. I wasn’t sure how my papers would be received. I wasn’t sure what I would be forced to defend or explain. Turns out they asked me to talk, and I did. I told my story. I told how the local church had hurt me. I told how the larger church didn’t even come when I asked. I cried. Bizarrely enough it was probably the most therapeutic thing I have done to deal with the hurt from the church. I finally told “the church” that I was hurt.

AND… they heard me. They listened. They apologized. They affirmed that I was not at fault. They complimented me on my ability to be so strong in my faith and “wise beyond my years”. They hugged me and told me that I was a child of God. They told me that there was a sure place for me, and that I am and will make a difference in this world… that God has a plan for me.

I needed to hear that. I needed to hear that from something that represents the church. This will probably take a bit to sink in. For now I am just going to breathe. I am just going to be happy that maybe I am not the failure that I have felt like for so long. I am just going to be proud that I am in love and not willing to hide it for anything. God is good. Today was good. The truth really does set you free

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Labels Matter.

I am a lot of things. Some of those things are good, some of those things are in need of improvement, and some of these things are just neutral.

I have long been someone who found labels to be confining. The minute you get a label you are thrust into a box. As soon as you are in the box you have expectations and restrictions. I take on labels to help me communicate, but over and over it has been exhausting if I ever break away from that label at all. My mantra has been, “I define my label, my label doesn’t define me.”

One example is Christian. I take on that label and wear it. I don’t really subscribe to all the doctrine though, and I certainly don’t fit in with some of the more evangelical church beliefs. I am a social justice seeking, Jesus following, people loving, fighting for the oppressed, Christian. I will not hand out pictures of a blond haired blue eyed Jesus on the side of the road with a blow horn and tell people about eternal damnation. I spend a lot of time reassuring people around that.

Another example is sexual orientation. I define myself as gay. The vast majority of relationships I have been in are with people who identify as women. However I have also dated men, people who define their gender outside the male/female binary system, and am not closed to the idea that may happen again in the future. I suppose pansexual would be more fitting, but when I use that I spend 2 billion years explaining what that means. I say gay because it is clear to the vast majority of people what that means, can be said quickly, and then if I date someone who doesn’t identify as a woman I just deal with that then.

Currently I just started dating someone who identifies as FTM. He is wonderful, so I have entered into this period of time where people in my life are starting to want some answers. Because my boyfriend passes as male in all situations people want to know why I am not gay anymore, or if I am just trying to be straight. My answer is simply, “I am not going to avoid dating someone that I really like, who is wonderful, because I want to fit into the ‘gay’ box.” I am not different than prior to dating him. I dated who I liked before, and I am doing that now. I am not tied to the label gay.  Currently I am just someone in love. Other people really are the only problem with this label and the effect on my identity.

The other label causing me some struggle lately is “pastor”. I went to school to get my Masters in Divinity. I went through the process to become a licensed pastor in the United Methodist Church. I served in a church as an intern for 2 years. I served in a church as an associate pastor for a year. I was the only pastor in the last church for a year and a half. I been called pastor through all of this. I wore that title proudly.I worked really hard for it. I got a master’s degree while working full time and doing an internship. I went through interviews and wrote papers, and in the end was finally approved. That label was a label that meant all that work was worth it, and I made it.

I wore that label proudly because it helped my fight against the damage Christians have done to God’s people. I use it to open up conversations with people. I don’t look intimidating, and talk to people fairly easily. I like that I can help people process the ways religion has hurt them. I have opened up countless conversations with people I don’t know simply by answering, “I am a pastor,” when asked what I do. I get to reassure people that they are created by God and loved exactly as they are. This label gives me authority in this, and has provided some people with peace in these conversations.

This label was stripped from me on January 14th though. I will write out the whole story at some point, but for now let it just be said that I felt like I had to leave the church, and it continues to be so painful. It is another label that has shifted in meaning, and changed how the world views me. For some reason though shaking this one, or redefining it so that it feels okay, had been so much harder. While I have been able to fight the pressures when society tries to put me in boxes in the past, this is different.I liked the box. I liked the identity. I feel like it was taken from me. The label pastor was important to me. This label really mattered… and I miss it.

 

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My Place In This Revolution

I have a great deal of shame around my lack of participation in this whole anti-Trump election revolution. Most of my friends are at rallies or protests. A vast majority organized gatherings that go along with these protests. They are making signs, and speaking up, and standing on the side of justice. I am sitting in my pajamas trying not to cry.

Let me try to explain.

I have always considered myself a fighter. I am a person who stands up for people. That is why I fell in love with Jesus in the first place. Jesus loved the underdog, the oppressed, the outcast. He loved them fiercely. He ate with them and talked to them and prayed with them. They were his people. That is the model I hold up for myself, and most days I think I do okay.

Except I have this huge cloud over me called PTSD… and it is making it really hard for me to even hear about Trump and his hatred, let alone do ANYTHING. A lot of people have a story about being hurt, mine just seems to be impacting me a lot with this giant trigger. When I feel unsafe… I can’t handle anything.

I have been in unsafe situations. I have had people call “faggot” out the window of cars at me. I have had death threats hung on my locker in high school saying “DIE DYKE.” I have had a teacher tell me she had graded my paper unfairly because she let her personal bias about gay people get in the way of objectively looking at my paper. I have had men say horrible sexualized things to me. I have been pushed up against a wall in a deserted office while an older larger man groped me and told me he loved me. And the list goes on and on… and in each of these situations I learned that nothing happens to those who do the hurting. Nothing.

In fact what happens is that I have to learn to move around them. I am inconvenienced because of their actions. I am told not to be so open about being gay. I am told to not hold my girlfriend’s hand. I am told to brush it off, or to educate people because they just don’t know any better. My hours are changed to not be in the office when the man is there.  Whatever they did to me, was not their fault, but simply the response to something I did. That is the message, and I got it loud and clear. I didn’t like it, but I learned as so many have to go with it to make life easier. I would brush it off and move forward.

Then that night happened. That night is the night that changed every part of me. I was home after a really long day at work. I had a paper due for graduate school, like most nights. I walked through the door to my apartment and the guy I was dating was drunk. So drunk. He was an alcoholic, but he was in recovery. He had a bad day, and so he relapsed. He was following me around denying drinking, but he smelled like booze and he was slurring. I kept telling him I wouldn’t talk to him like this, and when he demanded I speak to him I shot out some kind of smart ass comment. I don’t even remember what it was, but I know it was the moment I broke my cool. He had been sitting on the floor, and he jumped up. He lunged at me while I sat in the rolling office chair. He pressed the chair against the desk. The chair tilted back and my feet no longer touched the floor. He wrapped his hands around my neck and started screaming in my face. He was screaming, “I want you to die bitch.” I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t feel the ground. I felt my vision closing in on his red face, and the screaming was causing my ears to ring. I kicked as hard as I could. He let go and jumped back. I darted out of the office. He grabbed me and dragged me into the bedroom. He threw me on the bed. The edge of the bed frame hit hard on my back. He jumped on top of me and took my phone from my hand. I knew I needed help, but I was pinned and stuck. I thought that I might be killed now, or raped. I did what I am trained to do in crisis. I got really still and quiet. I hugged him, and just started talking about needing to take the dog out to go to the bathroom because it had been a while. He was drunk so my quick calm fooled him. He just got up. I calmly walked and slipped my keys in my pocket without him seeing. I put the leash on the dog. He continued to follow me. I continued to pretend like everything was fine. Then at the bottom of the stairs he flung me against the wall. He made me swear that I was just taking the dog out. I pointed at the dog and told him that I needed to take him out before he peed on the floor. My back was aching and my throat swollen from being choked. My upper arm was throbbing from being thrown. He backed away and I took the dog. Once outside I jumped in my car with the dog and drove away. There were police and craziness and court trials and lawyer meetings after that. Oh and a doctor appointment in which I had to be photographed with my hand print marks on my neck and arm. You could see where his hands had been on me for days.

That was the night that safety became so important to me though. EVERY time I feel unsafe now I flash back to that night. It plays like a movie in my head. While some people were upset about the video of Trump talking about assaulting women while he was on the bus… I was reliving the moment I thought I might be raped while pinned to the bed. I heard the whisper of the man in the office telling me he “loved me too much.” While some people got upset as Trump encouraged his protesters to remove people using violence from protesting at his rallies… I was having trouble feeling the floor beneath my feet as I relived being in that chair with hands squeezing my airways. While some people are disgusted with Pence and his anti-glbtq record… I see the death threat on my locker and the hear the echo of “Faggot” called after me. See the really interesting thing about PTSD is that suddenly trauma in your life all piles together, and ANY time you are triggered you get to relive it all. ALL your trauma attacks you in a giant ball of anxiety if one thing happens to open that flood gate in your mind. You can’t stop it, you often can’t predict it, and while it gets manageable it isn’t always possible to keep from drowning in anxiety even years after you had the incident.

When I heard about all the marches I wanted to be there. I wanted to be part of this history. I wanted to stand up and fight. I wanted to so badly. But every time I tried to make plans I was thrown into images of my trauma. I wasn’t sure these rallies and protests would be safe, and if I don’t know if I will be safe then I am completely trapped by my anxiety. I just freeze.I will fight this new president and this horrible ideology. I wanted to hold signs that said BLACK LIVES MATTER and WOMEN DESERVE EQUAL RIGHTS and LGBT PEOPLE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD. I wanted to tell the world that this is unacceptable that this man who triggers my trauma so intensely is president of the USA.

I pledge to carry these messages the next four years. I promise to keep fighting for justice and what is good and right. I will fight hatred. I will fight oppression. I will fight to let people know God loves us all. I will find my voice in this revolution. Love will win. Today though I feel so unsettled and unsafe in this world, and all of that is too much. Today I am only able to fight my own trauma, and that is the best I can do.

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Vegucated

What does it mean to live like Jesus?

That is a huge question, and I am trying to figure it out. I don’t know everything, but what I am sure of is that I want to try. I watched a Nooma video by Rob Bell that spoke about the ancient tradition of Rabbis picking and training new Rabbis. The idea is that the best of the best were chosen to enter an apprenticeship in which they followed the Rabbi around and learned to do everything they did. They ate when the Rabbi ate, slept when the Rabbi slept, visited, traveled, recited scripture, prayed, all when the Rabbi did. And as these Rabbis in training followed they would become covered in the dust kicked up from the sandy ground as it was kicked up by the Rabbi they followed. The hope was that they would so closely follow the Rabbi that they would be covered in his dust.

That is what I want. I want to follow so closely in the footsteps, and path of Jesus that I am covered in the dust. This means I need to examine every part of my life. My thoughts, my actions, it is all part of reflecting on my following of Jesus.

I need to break it down, because I can’t just change everything in a day. Somethings I may not even know how to change! I thought I would start with examining my eating. I eat a lot, and frankly not that well. I eat foods that are convenient, and think little about the greater impact they have on the world or my body. Part of this comes from my too busy life, part of it is the cultural push to consume too much sugar, calories, and fat, and part of it is simply because it is yummy. But what does the Bible offer up about this all?

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV: Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Great. Now I realize how important this is. Basically every time I eat poorly, or make poor choices for my body I am saying I am  to God for the gift of my body, for my life. I am damaging and showing lack of concern for the temple of God. Suddenly what is going in my mouth matters so much more. Further more I need to start thinking about the impact on the rest of the world my eating is having. I need to be a good steward of my resources and of this earth. It isn’t going to be easy, but I need to change some things.

I already don’t eat gluten and dairy because of allergies. This isn’t that hard to do, but is really complicated when it comes to going to other people’s houses. How many more restrictions do I want on my eating? I decided to stop fighting it, and instead research.

My first research topic was the effects of what I eat on the world. I watched a movie on veganism. (http://www.getvegucated.com/) Veganism is a plant-based diet in which you do not consume products made from animals or by animals. My eyes were opened so widely. The damage of the meat industry on the world is huge. There are fifty-five square feet of rainforest destroyed for every quarter pound hamburger that comes from a cleared rainforest cattle farm (http://livinggreenmag.com/2013/02/07/mother-nature/how-cows-kill-rainforests-the-flip-side-of-an-all-beef-patty/). And this is happening all over the rainforest, because we are demanding huge amounts of meat in our diets and can’t sustain it all. In fact if the whole world became vegan, there would be plenty food to feed all of us in the world, because it takes less land to feed on a plant-based diet. (http://www.earthoria.com/global-hunger-the-more-meat-we-eat-the-fewer-people-we-can-feed.html)

People think about becoming vegan as being unhealthy, but really it isn’t. It is possible to get all of the vitamins and needed substances from plants. Some people have commented that Vegan is a bit extreme… but how can I keep eating meat when I know the impact of this on the whole world. How can I continue to live my life contributing to the destruction of rain forests and the starvation of children of God? Simply, I cannot.

I am going to start this journey. I am going to be a vegan. Let the prayers begin for this BBQ loving girl!

Step one… eat all the meat in the house. If I have already bought it, then it will be worse to waste it. So I will be on a meat diet for a bit.

Step two… go get some food I can eat. The key to being successful is not letting myself get so hungry that I “cheat.”

Step three… tell everyone I know, and pick the date. It looks like Sunday will be the day I start!

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Stirring In My Bones

I don’t really think I have been even living as human for years. I mean, I have been eating, and breathing, and walking around among people. No one would know any different, but I have been just getting by for a really long time. Between all the working and school, and other obligations, I have been constantly moving. I have forgotten how to be anything but this robot that gets tasks done.

And this is not to say that I haven’t liked all these busy things that have filled up my life. I have actually loved them. I have been blessed with a million great experiences and have been changed for the better in so many ways. It is just that I had so many things going on that my days became lists on a typed to do list, and color coded boxes on my calendar. I bounced from thing to thing, and filled in every second. People would constantly ask me how I was doing it all. My quote was always, “I will sleep when I am dead.” And this wasn’t to be a jerk, but I couldn’t tell them the truth. The truth is that I was barely doing it all and I was so exhausted I thought I wouldn’t make it through each day. I could tell them that, because I saw the end, and I needed to believe I could get there.

The end was school graduation. And in December I received my Masters in Divinity. I loved Seminary, but having this completed meant I had the qualifications to follow my passion. It was always a means to an end. I felt God had a mission for me, and I needed to jump through the hoops to get there. The hoops are important, but my passion is in what is beyond them. And graduating, that is what started the stirring…

I have felt called to ministry for a long time, but this deep stirring, this pulsing through my veins. This is new. I can’t really explain what it all means. I feel urgency. I feel pushed toward something. I want to soak in the Scriptures. I want to pray for hours. I want to shake people and ask, “What do you think it means to be a Christian? Are you following Jesus? Don’t you see how important this is?” There is something I am being led to do. I don’t know what it looks like. I don’t know where my next step is, but I am trying to be open. Taking a deep breath in, and asking God for guidance. I know only that I want to be part of this irresistible revolution to teach people to live like Jesus, to love like Jesus. I am just an ordinary person, nothing special, but I am moved to be a radical. I want to show the world that God is love, through Jesus we have hope, and all we need is faith.

So here is my journey… whatever it is to become. May God use me for God’s work in this world.

Amen.

 

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