by Courtney Bither
I’m learning to leave right now.
Leaving is hard. At least for me. Leaving a relationship. A church. A home.
Sometimes it’s not difficult. Sometimes we grow out of things and people and places. Sometimes leaving is for the better. Sometimes it feels right. Sometimes it just happens.
And other times it doesn’t.
Other times it feels like leaving might kill you.
I’m in the process of leaving. I’m leaving because I can’t stay in a place where there isn’t love for hurting people, for different people, for people who are fighting for their lives.
And the process isn’t easy or pretty or neat.
It’s messy and sad and terrible.
But it’s not as messy and sad and terrible as trying to stay in a place without love.
by Elijah Walker
When I was four years old, my grandmother taught me to play Baptist hymns on the piano. “Oh, How I Love Jesus!” was the song of my heart. It did not take much to convince me to love Jesus at that age. I heard about him three times a week in our missionary Baptist church, and all I knew of him was love. I knew that he encouraged children. I knew that he was of God, who was good. I knew that every song we sang on Sunday mornings referenced his gentle love and generosity.
All I knew of Jesus was love. But the traditional narrative for young, queer and trans folks who were raised in a conservative, evangelical church is not typically a story of love. Rather, it is often a story of fear and loneliness. I feel privileged to say that my spiritual story did not begin with heartache but with the love of Christ. I am grateful for the foundation of love that I learned from my grandparents and our church in rural Arkansas. Jesus lived there.
by Hye Sung
Martin Luther King, Jr. argued that nonviolence “is an imperative to action.” That’s why King’s Poor People’s Campaign was envisioned as a “new and unsettling force.” It was to be disruptive. It was intended to make the issue of poverty impossible to avoid. King was assassinated before seeing that campaign unfold, but his words proved true again and again and again. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, disruptive action created results. Protests – riots even – made people pay attention.
But the work remains unfinished. And being a liberal, progressive Christian just isn’t enough. Especially if you’re comfortable in the tension between Empire and Kingdom. You cannot serve two masters. If you’ve chosen the Kingdom, you must refuse and resist Empire. If you’ve chosen Christ, you must refuse and resist Caesar.
Early Friends knew this. They broke laws. Caused public disruption. They ran toward trouble and defied the “justice” of the unjust. Refused to pay taxes and tithes, criticized Empire, and made enemies. They were fined, beaten, and jailed. And they grew.
by Amber Cullen
You were the first to arrive at the scene
To perform emergency care for my bleeding heart
Wrapping it tightly with gauze to stop the grieving
But the feeling stopped, too.
by Tiffany Graham
There is so much I don’t know.
I don’t know what justice is. Or how it should look in my culture. Or where to start.
I was walking by a building in another country. I heard the screams of a child. I sensed panic, fear, pain. A man was yelling words I somehow knew, in a language I didn’t understand. There was a muffled thud. The screaming stopped. I stood there, still listening, as people walked by me on the street. I knew they heard it, too, but nobody stopped. After a few more moments of waiting, I walked away.
Four days later, home again, the screams echoed in my memory. They were so sharp. I hadn’t told anyone. How could I describe it? I didn’t say anything.
by: Sarah Klatt
CN: anxiety, panic attacks, despair
I feel weak sometimes. It’s painful to write that sentence. I feel weak, exhausted, shaky, unconfident, scared, overwhelmed, panicked, anxious, down, sad, in the depths of despair…
And I DON’T LIKE IT.
I live with some chronic pain, and a lot of days my body hurts. Aches. Feels like there are spikes or knives in my neck and head. Like my stomach will never understand the goodness of food and serenity again.
I’ve rearranged my life with rhythms of rest and spaces each day, week, month, year to heal, retreat, and recover.
Even with these rhythms and intentional spaces, sometimes there’s a period of life with great stress. Events and places and people that are unsafe, dysfunctional, or for whatever reason require A LOT more energy and resilience. Even though most of the time I plan my life around my work and rest, seeking what brings life and joy – there are times when I have to be at/lead/do things/show up for situations that normally I avoid. Places and spaces where triggers are many, toxic energy abounds, or there’s conflict a brewing.
I’m gonna be real here and say I don’t always know how to handle these situations. I have a surprising amount of bravery and perseverance in me, and yet the aftermath is often pretty terrible. My body is very good at processing feelings when the rest of me refuses to deal with them, and usually transforms stress and trauma into physical sickness.
Yesterday after many a hard thing lately I spent the dark hours of the morning pacing in my bathroom sobbing and attempting to not throw up. That feels like a vulnerable thing to put out into the internet.
by Courtney Bither
What if asking more questions could help you find a way to save lives? Would you do it?
What if it cost you something?
I haven’t been writing much lately.
I sometimes open up my blog and I push the “Write” button and then I sit in front of my computer and I wait. I wait as if I’m hoping someone else will show up and write the words I need to say.
But no one is going to do this work for me.
So what am I waiting for?
’m tired. Really tired.
I’m tired of helping people understand why I should be allowed to exist. I’m not supposed to say that, either. I’m supposed to be happy to do this work.
But I’m not always happy.
This work is sometimes dehumanizing. It’s often exhausting.
And I keep doing it. Over and over and over again. Giving to the people who hurt me. Giving them time. Giving them energy. Giving them patience. Because what else am I going to do? This is worth it – this fight for more justice.
More people need to understand so that fewer people have to be hurt. And I’m sometimes not bad at this work. And I really do think it is worth it.
But I’m so tired.
by Hye Sung
I never got to know my brother Kento. He was already dying and in a hospital when we first met in person. Just a few days later, he died. He was unable to speak or move, but he was there. I got to touch him. To see him. Finally.
Before that, there had been too much distance. I remember when I first learned of his existence. Then I found him on Facebook, and when he accepted my friend request, it felt like a miracle. I could see pictures of him, read his statuses, see all the people who loved him. I wanted to be able to love him, too.
I only ever knew Kento’s hesitance behind a keyboard. I only ever knew his inability to deal with me.
I hoped he might make peace with us, his birth family, that he might decide to meet us. I told myself to not be anxious, that life would inevitably bring us together. And it did. In a hospital in Italy. In a bed in that hospital. Surrounded by machines.
Then he was gone.
by John Hampton
Stop telling people not to feel.
This last fall was the first election I’ve been able to vote in, and it was a doozy. It stirred up feelings for me, but everywhere I looked, people seemed to be saying, “Don’t worry, the world isn’t ending.”
Which stirred up more feelings for me: disbelief, disappointment, anger.
Because what I was hearing was, “Hey, I see how you’re feeling. But here’s why you shouldn’t feel the way you are feeling: (insert reasons for why people shouldn’t feel the way they are feeling.)”
You know what’s worse, though? People who invoke God as the ultimate emotional shut-down: “God is in control.” As if that’s even helpful.
by Tiffany Graham
I need you because, in spite of everything, God isn’t enough.
During a semester of student teaching, my whole life changed. And the time I used to have as a student was suddenly gone. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I didn’t have control of my schedule. And I couldn’t find the time for people that I used to take for granted.
It was hard. I didn’t see my friends at all when I stuck to my daily routine, my roommates were rarely to never in the room when I was both home and awake, and my teachers had all gone home by the time I got back to campus every day. What had been a life filled to bursting with people who love me, turned into a life filled with professional relationships, teacher-student confidentiality, and hallway gossip. I moved further from the center of the church. I could feel the difference.
I was lonely. I was also busy. When friends asked about getting together, I’d hedge. Because I had to calculate how much sleep I was willing to give up in order to see them. I’d hedge. Because I was already so tired.
I’d talk to God in between things – down time in the classroom, while driving to and from school – and it was good. God’s good. I like talking to God. But it wasn’t enough.
by Amber Cullen
I have been quiet.
I haven't sought to speak in the storm, because I am not rain, nor wind, nor shaking earth or crashing waves. I find my giftings in other places, much like the gentle breeze in 1 Kings that causes Elijah to emerge from the cave because he knows it is God.
And so it is with this image that my spirit resonates, thinking of myself as a breeze that caresses each and every person and calls them to know their Belovedness--and to cast off all that holds back from this Knowing. This is the tender compassion the Lord has given to me--one that seeks to protect the space for the journey of healing in each and every one of us, for we have all experienced trauma and fragmentation in our spirits.
by Sarah Klatt
Now that I have hooked you with that provocative title…
I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care lately, especially in the context of activism and non-profit work. I’ve found there is A LOT of talk about self-care in these circles, and a lot less follow-through. Often I find myself wondering if the self-care that I do see and experience being practiced here is actually aiding in sustainability, or if we’re putting bandaids on something that will never be healed through bandaids.
I have chronic pain. I have a headache every moment of every day, and depending on the hour, stress levels, and how much I’ve tried to do, it goes from being mildly annoying to intense pain that blocks everything else out. I also experience anxiety, which similarly goes ranges from something that I’m tending to on the edges, to hours of debilitating panic, often accompanied with nausea and increased headaches.
For a long time my mode of operation was: go and go and go, and give all my energy to the world and my ideas, and do all the work, and have all the fun and then…
CRASH BURN CRASH
I would get sick, or have such a bad headache that I had to stay in bed for days. After repeated attempts at smaller nudges, my body pursued more dramatic measures to get my attention. And so I would give in and rest, intensely and deeply for a few days.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
by C. J. Hardee
I've come to realize that I am not a very patient person. I always thought that I was, but over the past two years, I have come to realize that perhaps I am horrible at being patient. I can sit for hours by a lake, with a fishing rod in hand, I can wait for days knowing the first spring rain is on its way to quench the dry Texas ground, I can wait for months knowing my best friend and his fiance will be down to visit me from Seattle... but I cannot wait any longer for my family to realize that nothing on or in this world, made me a lesbian.
I can no longer listen to my parents and grandmother say that me going off to a State University made me gay, that the bullying I went through in middle school is the reason for my "same sex attraction," I no longer have the patience in constantly telling my Mom and Dad that they didn't do anything to make me the way that I am. I no longer have the patience in trying to convince my family that I am still the same decent, god-fearing, family centered, healthy, generous, loving and independent woman.
by Yelena Tower
We know we want to live
the truth is we’re ashamed,
hiding and skulking in scat
while the world rattles by,
holding you secret down in our bellies,
something we'd seriously
rather not talk about
a disgusting agora of fear,
a hissing entrail of shame.
I can’t figure out what’s wrong.
God, help me. I am a twinge
in the setting sun.
by Ricky Cintron
I’m not a big fan of the word “unity” these days.
More often than not, folks who say they want unity don’t want the hard work that comes with making it a reality. We’ve seen, for example, political leaders and private citizens alike from across the country respond to the phrase “Black Lives Matter!” with “All Lives Matter! Why are you dividing people by race? We need to come together! All lives are important!” Yet we know that historically, Black lives have not mattered, so responding with “all lives matter” seeks to simply erase the trauma and historical experiences of Black people.
This kind of unity – the kind that asks marginalized voices to stop making people uncomfortable – is not unity.
by Hye Sung
I remember falling in love with Jesus my junior year of high school. God received me, embraced me, didn’t ask questions. God loved me.
And then I started getting to know Christians.
I went to an end-times Bible study most Saturday mornings my senior year of high school. We listened to recordings of teachings from Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer – Kansas City, a charismatic ministry with a mission of praying and worshiping 24/7.
It was a small Bible study. Usually there were just three or four of us. We ate bagels, sat in fold-out chairs in a circle, often huddled around a space heater. We listened to Bickle describe the dreadful days that were coming, and every so often one of us would exclaim “Wow!” or “Amen!”
But there was this one moment. I looked around the room. Nobody had their eyes open. They were concentrating on Bickle, trying to soak up every word. It dawned on me that they really believed the end times were approaching, that the day was near. I didn’t know if I believed that.
I felt bad.
by Courtney Bither
Trigger warning: rape.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7: 1-800-656-4673
I think I’ve known for a while that this piece was coming. It seems inevitable. It’s too important.
Things are hard, but they are too important to avoid. This is a resounding cry in my life right now.
This is hard. Writing this is hard. But it is too important not to.
I was assaulted the second week of my freshman year of college.
I remember it.
I was sober. I remember what I was wearing. I remember where I was. I remember being carried by a man I didn’t know into a room. I remember saying no. I remember checking out. Counting to 50 and then counting down. Please make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.
I remember the door opening:
“What the fuck man? What are you doing to her?”
by Chrissy Muhr
Back in eighth grade, a friend and I got lost while exploring.
“If we have to spend the night in the woods,” Amelia growled at me, “I’m going to have to kill you.”
I smiled nervously, calculating how best to escape should it come to that: “Maybe if you climb that tree, you’ll be able to see which direction we should go.”
I didn’t know if this would be any better than my original idea of letting the dog lead us home (we’d ended up going in circles for an hour), but it put a little distance between us. Just in case. We were in the woods not far from my house. I should have known how to get home, but I didn’t. Up in the tree, Amelia thought she could see a break in the forest, so we walked in that direction until we finally found the road.
by Rika D Lively
There’s this picture of me sitting in an old photo album at my parent’s house. I am probably four and I’m standing on a patio chair outside with my brother and my dad. I’ve got a popsicle stick in my mouth with red juice stains surrounding my lips. We must have all finished swimming because the three of us are all shirtless, wearing swim-shorts.
Being shirtless isn’t a huge deal when you are a four year old girl. It’s probably not preferred, but it is not the worst. I remember my mom would frown at me as I refused the pink and purple swimsuits and demanded to wear swim-shorts just like dad. We were just in our own backyard and nothing was growing on my chest yet – but still, it wasn’t proper swimwear for a girl. However, with the picture as evidence, I had gotten what I wanted. I swam in those swim-shorts and was just like the boys. I stood proudly on the chair with a popsicle in my mouth, my thumbs up in the air. I was a girl, but I was a girl who could do what the boys could do too.
by Hye Sung
I was 16 when I stumbled into speaking in tongues. I was praying. Some words fell out of my mouth, and I wondered if this was The Gift. But I didn’t know what to do with it, and I wasn’t sure what was supposed to come next.
I tell people that’s how I found the Quakers. Let me explain.
I met with my pastor, who took an “open but cautious” stance on the charismatic gifts. My best Christian friends had mixed responses and no experience. Several of them disapproved of all charismatic phenomena. Nobody I was close to knew much outside of YouTube clips of hotline preachers. But I was desperate to nurture whatever God was doing in me, confident that she was.
I sought out people who were involved in a Filipino charismatic Catholic community. I sought out everyone. Any inkling that somebody was into tongues, and I found a way to talk to them.
A woman at my church heard from her son that I was talking about the Holy Spirit. She affirmed what God was doing in my life and gifted me with a box full of DVDs, CDs, and books from John Wimber, a founder of the neo-charismatic Vineyard denomination. I discovered in John’s words an integrated Evangelical spirituality that valued mysticism and biblical authority; tradition and new wineskins. The way John ministered was not typical of charismatics; it was grounded in deep listening. His theology celebrated God being present and alive but also embraced the eschatological tension of the “not yet.” He was different.