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.
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.