“It slowly starts to get in your mind and your subconscious [that] it’s Scientology against the world . . . anybody who puts Scientology down is your enemy, is our enemy…. Then you start to insulate yourself from people who aren’t Scientologists, and that’s how it begins.” - Leah Remini
I listened to Leah Remini discuss her experience getting out of Scientology, and I couldn’t help my tears. What she was saying in the documentary – it made sense. I had never been a Scientologist, didn’t have any friends in Scientology, and barely knew anything about the faith. But I could relate. I, too, had been shunned.
Shunning is worse than rejection. Because it’s not just the loss of a relationship. It’s also the loss of identity, of community, of purpose. It’s like dying.
It was the first vacation of my adult life. Since childhood, I’d dreamed of going on a cruise, island hopping and swimming and maybe watching whales. And I finally did it, booking the ticket to leave from New York City – just a subway ride from home.
It took awhile to settle in. The first night, I jerked awake repeatedly – “Why is my bed moving? Oh, yeah …” Then two minutes later, “Why is my bed moving? Oh, yeah …”
I found the basketball court on the sun deck and shot hoops for an hour a day, discovered the soft serve machine and had ice cream at every meal, explored the decks and made use of the best reading chair in history, and awakened (inexplicably) at five o’clock every morning.
Most importantly, I turned off my phone. I needed it as a clock, but I put it in airplane mode for the duration. I work pretty much full-time in ministry, with a lot of that work happening online – email, social media – so it’s normal to have the work at my fingertips, responding to others’ needs within minutes. It’s a joyful ministry – work that I love – but it’s also something I carry with me twenty-four hours a day, and sometimes, it gets heavy.
Spring and fall are arguably the seasons when I feel the most in tune with my creative and spiritual energy, and this spring, I've been thinking quite a bit about the cycle of seasons and all the metaphorical wisdom it holds.
Around March and April is when spring typically starts to roll around in the Northern Hemisphere, and spring always brings to mind several different interrelated ideas.
And if you notice, all those words have that prefix re- attached to the front (sorry, everyone, this is where my inner linguist comes out), which tells you that it's a return to something, a going back to a previous state. But the underlying connotation there is that there was a departure from that previous state first, and in all those words, the implication is that there was some form of destruction or deterioration or death. And as with the seasons, I think this same cycle tends to play out in the lives of queer people as we come into our own. I think many of us tend to wade through a season of sacrifice and loss prior to finding renewal and regrowth.
Recently, I was interviewed by Liberty University's Dean of Students in response to a tweet I posted regarding posting Pride flags at the top of Liberty's new "Freedom Tower".
For the record, I have no regrets.
The Dean began the meeting with said issue, affirming the given that the University does not condone the posting of Pride flags atop its crown jewel. Once this and a brief introduction were out of the way, I was quick to express concern for the policy and enforcement measures Liberty takes against its LGBTQ+ students. I was adamant that there are real, dangerous issues with not just the language in the Liberty Way (the document serving as a code of student conduct), but the way in which it is applied.
He asked a simple question: Given our significant theological differences, how can Liberty hold to its "views" whilst being more hospitable to its LGBTQ+ students?
I have a fondness for cemeteries. Most people don’t know how to respond when learning that fact. I imagine images of cloaked figures or old-timey grave robbers flash across their minds’ eyes. What good could I possibly be up to in a place like that? Sure, people visit graves of loved ones and meander around for genealogy research from time to time; that’s understandable. But those of us who stay for hours at a stretch, not there for anyone in particular? That’s just weird, right? Off-putting at least.
I'm glad you don't hate gay people. I'm glad you think Black Lives Matter. I'm glad you're inclusive, welcoming, affirming - I'm glad you're the good kind of religious people.
But you're not.
A lot of us had to learn that the hard way.
We had to learn that we were counted as members in order to reach a quota. We were present so the pastor, the church, the denomination, looked good. Open-minded. Liberal. Progressive.
Our gifts were used, flaunted even, and we were constantly affirmed. Told we were needed, necessary, and we were thanked. Over and over again. For what? For showing up. Without saying a word, we were counted prophets.
I am very decidedly a “city person.” So much so that, during seminary orientation last year, when some new friends invited me to “go exploring” with them I assumed they meant exploring downtown. Lo and behold, they meant exploring a state park. So off I went hiking.
For the past 4 days, I hit the road and spent time in Nashville, Tennessee, “Music City USA” with population nearly 700 thousand, and in Bryson City, North Carolina, a little Smoky Mountain town with population 1-2 thousand. City person as I am, you might guess which location I enjoyed most. But you’d probably guess wrong.
In Bryson City, I was struck with the gift of the small town, the gift of getting away from home, work, school, and errands, trading them all in for a slower pace and quieter place even just for a couple days.
Late last summer, I finally did something I had told myself I was going to do for a long time. It didn't feel particularly profound or significant at the time. In fact, the only significant part of it was the thought that it would take *at least* a few months for it to all grow out again in the event I didn't like it. And if anything, I think it even felt a little childish. So, no, I wasn't running around with lofty philosophical ideas in my mind at the time, but I went ahead and dyed my hair silver/white anyway. I didn't know dyeing my hair was going to change my life.
Maybe that sounds melodramatic. Maybe that is melodramatic, but I really believe the last 6 months of my life might've played out differently if I hadn't decided to dye my hair white. It's funny, you know, how you find those small sacred things that have a way of needling their way into your soul and so drastically changing you that you're not even fully aware of it until months have passed. That's what I've been discovering about my white hair.
I’m Darren. Darren Khalil Calhoun to be exact. Most people call me Darren, but my mom calls me Calhoun and sometime we call each other Franky. I’ve been called a number of names… most of them Good and kind like “Dare Bear” but some others that I… wouldn’t ever repeat in church. I’ve also been known for what I do. I work as a freelance photographer so sometimes I’m known as “photo guy” or “picture man.” In college, I helped to launch a campus ministry and during this same time I was ordained as a minister. Suddenly my name became “Minister Darren.”
According to the Luke version, “And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs…” He is diagnosed as demon possessed with chronic demonic fits: “For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.”
There are places people go when life gets rough — separate places, safe spaces, sanctuary. I have a rock in the Owyhee Mountains. Just up the hill behind the Catholic church in Silver City, Idaho — past open mine shafts and sage-brush clumps — lies a red dirt path. That first time, I followed it because it went up, and I wanted to go to the top. I wanted to see. What I found was a rock. I climbed up on top and sat at the edge, and I could see for miles down the creek to Jordan Valley, up the creek to Silver City, along the road to Murphy. I was alone.
These words paraphrased from a Longfellow poem have been ringing in my ears today. It isn’t raining here, actually it’s been kind of a dry week. But I feel the rain.
Many of my friends and family are also feeling the rain today; this week holds many shades of sorrow. Friends are literally still digging out from storms that blasted a month ago. Family are tending to grief and memories of loved ones lost long enough ago that others are forgetting and still so fresh as to prick tears from those close by. Other friends sit freshly wounded at the loss of life, too soon, too sad, too shocking to describe.
Grief is so common, it could provide the one universal human experience. Everyone who loves eventually feels the pain of loss. Longfellow says it is inevitable. Into every life a little rain MUST fall. But why must it?
I want to reject it. Wall it off, don’t let it in the gates. Ward off loss at every turn and with all my defenses, I’d turn myself into the loneliest woman in the world.
If you asked middle-school Rika what her greatest dreams were, she’d probably tell you that she wanted to be a wife and a mother because the patriarchy. BUT – if you asked her deep down what her greatest dreams were, she would hesitantly tell you that she had always wanted to be a singer. Yes, I would say this but then just brush it off like it was no big deal because my voice was the worst. That being said, I would also run home after school every afternoon so I could secretly practice singing in my room. I would sit in front of my computer with my favorite songs on, and force my vocal chords to do what I wanted them to do. And somehow, after those two years of personal voice lessons I gave myself in middle school, I guess I have a decent voice? Either that or people have been incredibly kind in letting me sing publicly for the past seven years (if the latter is the case, continue to let me live in delusion please).
I was a junior in high school when I first started leading a worship band. I LOVED it. For me, it was the most personal and accessible way for me to experience God. Throughout my faith life, He had always been this far-off being in the sky that I could somewhat imagine when I read Scripture, but still felt like a storybook character. God was like a place you had always heard off, but could never picture with your eyes. When I started working in the worship band, the lyrics and music suddenly moved my heart and spirit. Learning new melodies and worshiping alongside my friends became the space where I could hear God – where I could feel Him.
Sometimes, I attempt to break from social justice discourse, work and meetings to focus on myself and to reconnect with and meditate upon some of my other values. Yet, when I engage in these meditations, I realize that I can never fully remove them from my need for social justice. My life requires social justice. I realize how the need for social justice is part of my personal life, even in those mundane moments that many would describe as “apolitical”, such as going on a date, spending time outdoors or a going to a party. When I think about community, personal health, relationships, intimacy, trust, self-love — I can never separate these things from my experience as a black Latina woman in the southern United States. No matter how personal the endeavor may seem, being places and meeting people will always have dimensions of power involved. It is the world we live in. That’s why I need social justice in my personal life, because I want to have a good life.
EDIT: I KNOW THE JARGON THAT I AM USING “INCORRECTLY” HERE. Yes, a “Quaker church” is called a meeting. The thing is, most of my readers would not understand what a meeting is. I care more about being accessible than about playing this shitty game with jargon.
Google Quaker process.
But if you aren’t a Quaker or are relatively new to Quaker jargon, the search results might be confusing and overwhelming. If you are a Quaker like me and have been trying to become a Quaker for four years, then you might cry.
Like every other organized religion and institution, Quakers have their own system, structure, and language. Quakers aren’t special because they talk in code.
Quakers, however, keep their code, structure, and system a secret. A secret cloaked in the language of inclusion and equality and welcome. If you don’t understand the system, you just aren’t trying hard enough (or so they tell me).
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.