The other day, my mom brought us a bag of frozen blueberries, because she knew our boys like to have them as a snack, and we were out of blueberries. While I appreciated the gesture, I hesitated. Why?! Why, you might ask, would you hesitate, when your kids’ nana brings them a HEALTHY snack (as opposed to sending them home hyped up on sugar, like many loving nanas are wont to do)?
Well, I hesitated, because blueberries are one of those things that I try to hold a little bit sacred as a food that we eat in season, or until our local, u-pick batch runs out from the previous summer. If the boys didn’t want to stay in the field long enough to get enough berries to last through the entire year in the freezer, tough luck. No more blueberries until June.
Have you ever tasted a sun-warmed Oregon blueberry, fresh off the blueberry bush? Sweet and tangy, warm and luscious: just the right amount of squish and substance.
Truth be told, my boys generally don’t want to spend any more time in the field because they have eaten so many that they have nearly made themselves sick. We’re working on that. One year at a time.
I used to call myself a Quaker. I never joined a meeting, and honestly, I had suspicions from the beginning that it just wasn’t going to work. But I was desperate for people, and I really wanted the Quakerism I’d read about.
I couldn’t find it, though, and now I’m not sure it exists.
In the meantime, I’ve been talking, and writing, and a number of Friends say my critical observations about Quaker institutions and culture are illegitimate, either because of my lack of membership or because of my newness. I don’t have a right to point out classism and white supremacy, they say.
It’s been hard finding my place and voice in the Religious Society of Friends. And honestly, I’ve given up. I don’t see the point.
When I read what early Friends wrote, I’m drawn to their vision. Friends lived out of step with the world. Their yielding to Christ demanded deep listening, joy in suffering for the truth, abandonment to the movement of Love. They declared the end of days and rejected the idolatry of nationalism. They were living into a new Society of Friends.
Last month in worship, I fell into the arms of a stranger. In doing so, I found myself falling into the arms of God, again and again and again. I left feeling so drunk that I had to wait in the parking lot in order to sober up before driving home. But I hadn’t had a sip of alcohol that night.
Let me back up.
Until the end of July, I was on pastoral staff at a semi-programmed Quaker church in Portland. It was and is and will always be my home in many ways. I was so grateful to spend every Sunday morning with my delightful Friends.
At some point in my service there, I realized that I still needed more time and space in my life for worship. I began occasionally visiting a local Vineyard church on Sunday evenings. I’d slip in after the service started and slip out near the end, unnoticed. No one there knew that I was a pastor. I didn’t go every week or even every month—just when I felt the Spirit nudging me in that direction.
Sometimes internet strangers tell me that they don’t support my “lifestyle.” This is always a bit confusing to me, because while I’ll admit that my lifestyle isn’t the most exciting one in the world, it seems pretty agreeable.
I usually wake up around six in the morning. I try to listen to a podcast before I go to work or class. If it’s a Saturday, I take a walk to the farmers market to buy ingredients to cook dinner. If it’s a Sunday, I go to church and then I take a nap on the couch when I get home.
I drink a latte every day with two extra espresso shots and a honey drizzle on top. I have a couple of tattoos and piercings. I dyed my hair purple one time and that was cool. I take a multivitamin. I don’t eat meat. My favorite La Croix is the orange one and I have a weakness for bagels. Sometimes I go on runs, but I prefer bike rides.
The institutional church, as it grapples with cultural change in the form of declining attendance and giving, tends to preserve the status quo. Members take actions toward a stronger system — earthquake-proofing, a new roof, remodeling the foyer to let in more light. Incremental improvements. New efficiencies. Streamlining.
But what if it’s time to move to a new neighborhood? To leave the old building behind and start on a journey into the unknown?
My mom didn’t talk to me for forty days after I came out to her as gay. I’d revealed that the friend I kept bringing when I visited family was actually my boyfriend of two years. She was shocked.
Because my mom believes in a sanctified numerology, forty days was the time she needed to sort through her hurt and disappointment with God. At the end of the forty days, she concluded that I had a clean conscience, and she couldn’t argue with that. But in spite of her tolerance of me, her theology remained unchanged.
She’d once told me that gay people were “spiritually lower than animals,” so perhaps this was a progressive position for her.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” [Matthew 10:40]
Jesus speaks these words at the end of a long sermon commissioning the twelve apostles to go out and proclaim the good news, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Jesus tells them all this and then tells them don’t worry about bringing a bag, or a tunic, or money, or whatever. These apostles would have to depend on the hospitality of strangers in the places they visited. The church from its inception has relied on the kindness of strangers, for those who welcomed the apostles welcomed Jesus. The early church depended on hospitality and it was charged with extending that same hospitality to others, and so today we Christians strive to be a people of welcome and hospitality.
Note: This is a piece I wrote as I was leaving Portland, my home for two years, to move to Indiana for seminary. It focuses on my experience with depression and what it was like to leave the community that held me.
and I weep not because I don’t want to go, but because it’s so hard to leave this
Living with depression this past year was like wandering in a cave. I wandered for so long that I eventually got tired and, rather than using all of my remaining energy to find the way out, I just…sat down. I sat there for so long that it felt like home—but I wasn’t warm, or dry, or happy, or safe. I couldn’t even rest.
I want to write about joy. I want it to be profound and eloquent and make us all feel better.
I also wanted to skip church yesterday, but apparently I can’t figure out how to do either.
I wanted to skip church because I was tired and frustrated and angry. I’ve been angry for the past couple weeks. I’ve been angry at homophobic blog comments. I’ve been angry at the dude who rolled down his car window as he drove by just to call me a dyke. I’ve been angry at myself for letting that Eugene Peterson interview make me feel better. I’ve been angry at myself for being surprised and hurt when he took it all back. I’ve been angry about all the chances I’ve given Evangelicals, all the grace I’ve shown, and all the bitterness I’ve still managed to feel. I’ve been angry at myself for being angry.
So I thought that one Sunday off might do me some good. Because, guys…I don’t want to be angry at anyone anymore. I want to sleep in and I want to write about joy. But I don’t know how…
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As a young Christian, I memorized this passage of scripture from Galatians. Elsewhere Jesus said, “You will know my disciples by their fruit,” and I assumed he meant the fruit of the Spirit. As a Christian struggling with attractions to other men, I wanted to fill myself so much with God and God’s Spirit, that they would drive out what I believed were evil desires. I didn’t just say NO to homosexuality; I said yes to a full life of pursuing God. I believed the fruit of the Spirit would crowd out the bad seed that was planted in my flesh. I wanted that fruit.
To be honest, that was not all I wanted. I did not want to go to hell. I did not want to get HIV/AIDS. I did not want to lose my Christian friends. I wanted the acceptance and affirmation that was showered upon the straight people at church. I wanted a family. I wanted to be “normal.”
I got sick one morning not so many years ago, thinking about going to church. I suddenly felt dizzy and tired. Incredibly tired. I sat down on the couch (with a plate of brownies for sustenance).
“What’s this about?” I wondered. Church had been my life. I volunteered for hours every week, attended services at several different denominations, read just about anything I could find regarding what it means to live a God-centered life, what it means to know God. But I realized, while I was thinking, that I didn’t much like church. It felt like a waste of my time. I resented having to go.
I took another brownie and asked myself, “Is there anything wrong with church?” I knew that I believed in an active, living, present God, and we were spending a lot of time talking about God. I wondered if maybe that’s the problem. We talked God to death every Sunday. But when did we experience God’s presence with us in corporate worship? Did we ever feel God or hear God? Did we know God?
I have reviewed your offer and the attached job description, and after careful consideration I regret to inform you that I will not be accepting the position of “Gay Friend.”
It was tempting at first, mostly because the alternatives seemed so lonely. And I’ll be honest, you almost won me over with the promise of paying for coffee when we sit down so you can “hear my story.” However, I have some concerns.
First of all, the job description states that you will be name-dropping me in all conversations pertaining to “the issue of homosexuality” from this point forward. I assume you’re referring to the conversations you have with your real friends, when you muse about the world and your faith and the ways the two interact. I’m sure these conversations sometimes turn into debates, especially since your non-affirming position is so quickly losing popularity. That’s where I come in, right? If you mention that you have a “gay friend,” then no one could possibly consider you a bigot. I’m the living proof that we can disagree on divisive issues and still get along, correct? As if the coffee we share could be listed among your credentials and our perceived friendship somehow makes you more qualified to condemn…
In his book Palm Sunday, Kurt Vonnegut declared himself a Christ-worshipping agnostic. “I’m enchanted by the Sermon on the Mount,” the Hoosier-born writer wrote. “Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have received so far.” Those words were part of a sermon he delivered on Palm Sunday 1980 about concern for the poor and how Christians have too often misinterpreted Christ’s statement that the poor would always be among us as justification to ignore those in need.
In the same book he wrote:
“What is so comical about religious people in modern times? They believe so many things which science has proved to be unknowable or absolutely wrong.”
“How on earth can religious people believe in so much arbitrary, clearly invented balderdash? For one thing, I guess, the balderdash is usually beautiful – and therefore echoes excitingly in the more primitive lobes of our brains, where knowledge counts for nothing.”
Although not everybody agreed with the music, or the theology, or even the lights, we gathered around each other, some pressed tight, fingers gripping shoulders, allowing emotions to trample past the limits of our simple barriers and bodies we think separate us. It may not have been perfect, and it may not have been correct. In fact, I am certain it was all wrong. But still, we gathered, and we passed our hurt in front of eyes that had never seen it and we laid our rusted souls out in exchange for the chance to feel the passing of another. It was there that we saw the hurting and the imperfections of those we knew. Some of the hurt was known; some was a surprise. Some of the imperfections were well-versed like a hymn sung a few times too many each morning.
Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public. – Cornel West
These are difficult times, and I am afraid. I’m afraid for me and for the people I love. I feel rushed. I feel urgency. I don’t have time to convince you. I don’t have beautiful language or academic words. I only have this. If you are a Christian who can’t hear me, who doesn’t believe I’m in pain, who doesn’t believe the pain is real, then we have a problem. You have a problem.
You make shallow and uninformed calls to love the oppressed. We need to love Muslims, you say. We need to love Black people, we need to love LGBTQ+ people because they are our siblings, they are family. However, in the very next breath, you pass off false information, toss off stereotypes, hold off from helping the people you just called “family.”
You say, “But I have never done a racist/Islamophobic/sexist act.” And you talk amongst yourselves, convinced that agreeing about love is the same thing as loving.
The other day during Morning Prayer I found myself reading a passage from Ezekiel, the famous “Valley of Dry Bones” vision:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. (Ezekiel 37:1-5)
This is probably one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible. Coincidentally, I had also read this passage during the Easter Vigil at church. That was my first time ever attending an Easter Vigil service; when I was a child, my parents didn’t go to the Vigil because it’s a super long service. As beautiful as this service was, I wasn’t filled with joy. I had a recent falling out with some friends, work had me really burnt out, and I was reminded of how lonely I felt in Boston, especially since I usually spend this holiday with my family back home. I sat with this passage, thinking about Easter and the empty tomb, and silently prayed: “Lord, breathe into the places in me that are dry and dead. Fill those places with life.”