by Jonah Venegas
Something that you'll know about me if you've known me for a little while is my complicated relationship with the church. You could say that things have been on-and-off for the last several years since coming out, for all the obvious reasons. Calvinism. Complementarianism. Oh, and of course, the bigger kicker, non-affirming LGBTQ theology.
Just the other night, I was sitting in my car, talking to my sister in the driveway about how for about three or four weeks straight immediately prior to me beginning what would become my 3-year hiatus from church, the head pastor felt the URGENT NEED to sneak something into the sermon about how depraved or broken or lost queer people are, by virtue of existing. It didn't really matter that the sermon had been about Peter denying Jesus three times or the Great Commission or some other completely unrelated topic. Apparently, this particular pastor happened to be massively convicted that he had to speak against queer people. Cool. Not relevant. But I guess we'll go with it.
That was the last straw essentially. At that point, it didn't even feel like a pastor reiterating the church's established beliefs on sexuality. At that point, it just felt like a cruel reminder that at this particular church, queer people were certainly NOT welcome, unless of course they were willing to entertain notions of lifelong solitude or conversion therapy.
And so, I left.
by: H.L. Holder
(Content Note for talk of hell, spiritual abuse, etc.)
Growing up, fear and love were inseparable concepts. Because my parents “loved me,” they would punish me and my siblings physically instilling fear anytime I remotely thought I might be doing something wrong.
Because God “loved me,” and didn’t want me to die and go to hell, God supposedly killed his son, Jesus, on a Roman cross because of my sins. Unsure what “sins” a 6 year old can commit exactly, other than maybe being a kid and not always listening well to my parents, but I do know I believed all of that. And “got saved” at that age–which is fundamentalist/evangelical speak for I confessed my sins to God and “accepted” that Jesus died to take the punishment for my sins.
by Eric Muhr
A good game is like the gospel. In the imaginative world of play, people perform foolish acts for no good reason. It’s fantasy that teaches us something about reality: what it is to live without inhibitions, what it means to be real together.
Imagine a six-year-old girl teaching adults to wriggle around on their stomachs like snakes. Imagine two friends on a road trip, reading billboard messages backwards, pretending to speak in a foreign tongue. Imagine a group of students using dictionaries and a long cafeteria table to create a schoolhouse shuffleboard.
by Liz Oppenheimer
We are cautioned in the letter from the elders of Balby that “these things [which we have shared with you] we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all with the measure of light which is pure and holy may be guided . . . and fulfilled in the Spirit,—not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” (Emphasis added)
Our current books of discipline, our yearly meetings’ books of faith and practice were conceived of and written largely by white Friends with limited or no direct experience, or analysis, of the cumulative harms of racism, white supremacy, and implicit bias. Year after year, generation after generation, although our good intentions as white Friends have carried our predominantly white worship communities through racial tensions, we have failed our Friends of color, whether they worship with us on First Days or not. We must begin to consider the possibility that our Faith and Practice may be flawed or that we have begun to rely too much on guidance from the printed word, rather than on the Spirit that brought them forth. The words and advices contained therein may reinforce patterns, behaviors, and worldviews grounded in unexamined whiteness, unknowingly cultivating attitudes that favor compliance or conformity to worldly norms rather than encouraging unity with the Living Spirit.
by Brett Anthony
I wasn’t listening to my body. I was trying to ignore the anxiety building up in my chest as my stomach turned in knots. My palms were sweaty. My neck was tense. I took a deep breathe in. I held onto it for a few seconds. Then, I let it go slowly. I had forgotten what it felt like to breathe. I had forgotten what it felt like for my heart to beat, holding onto both excitement and fear. I had forgotten what it felt like to be alive.
About one year ago, I found myself feeling the most depressed that I have felt in a while. I had to force myself to get out of bed and I don’t mean that I had to push snooze on my alarm three times. Rather, I slept through my alarm and other important tasks that needed to get done. I ate because I knew I needed to, not because I felt hungry or wanted to. I felt that my mind was eroding. I was numb. I was breathing because I had to survive, not because I was living. I felt like a half functioning machine.
by Jonah Venegas
The main gist of this whole "guarding your heart" facade is supposed to be this: if you don't get too close to someone in the early stages of a relationship, "giving too much away," is usually how it gets phrased, then you'll walk out the relationship with less pain if it happens to not pan out. That might be a nice idea to start out with, but it really starts to destabilize when you throw in the parallel Christian notion that casual dating is bad and that you're always supposed to date with the goal of marriage. (I could write another whole blog post on the flaws of that, but I digress). The problem with this setup is that those two ideas are completely antithetical. It's not possible to simultaneously "guard your heart," aka basically hold a person at arm's length in the initial stages of dating while also dating with this laser-focused goal of getting married eventually. I might only have one year of therapy school under my belt, but it's enough for me to tell you that's not how things work relationally whatsoever.
by: Hye Sung
I’m going to be honest – I work hard. I work two jobs, one of which is physically demanding. Lifting and carrying heavy things up and down stairs. Hours all over the place, often past midnight – hours past midnight. It takes a toll on my body and on my mind.
I like routine. I like going to bed early, waking up early. I like knowing what’s coming and living in a rhythm. I like the mental space that order gives me to be thoughtful and creative, to be present. But for now, that can’t be a thing.
I’ve worked hard the past few weeks, putting in more hours than usual, trying to make up for the time that I took off work to organize and participate in the Friendly Fire retreat. I was excited for today, for my check to come. I logged into my bank account, and it was big. Not as big as I thought it’d be, but bigger than any check I’ve gotten in a while. So I paid my rent and some bills. I had $27 left.
And then I cried.
by Caitlin J. Stout
“Who knows…some of you might even be struggling with your sexuality.”
My professor glanced around the room solemnly as he said this. He had just finished a story about his gay friend, who, after making the decision to live a “full-blown homosexual lifestyle,” eventually succumbed to drug addiction and died from a meth overdose. This, of course, being an example of the proverbial slippery slope– the one that starts with following Jen Hatmaker on Twitter and ends in Hell.
This is a narrative that so many LGBT folks grow up hearing from their pastors and parents. It’s the idea that anyone who does not currently identify as straight must be experiencing inner turmoil, anxiety, or agony over their own sexual thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Of course, there is a period of struggle for most Queer people. It is an oftentimes agonizing thing to realize that you are not what your friends and family expect you to be. It can be difficult to decipher what your mind and body are telling you when you grow up in a society that assumes everyone is heterosexual and cisgender. And it is terrifying to realize that you’ll have to come out of the closet and into a less-than-friendly world. Sometimes, being Queer is indeed a struggle.
by Rachel Virginia Hester
Finding my voice as a queer Christian means being comfortable about being a queer Christian.
Being black feels vulnerable already. Being queer and Christian feels vulnerable and scary as well. Being a woman anywhere is scary. Being queer and black and a woman who wants to be a Christian… help me, Jesus. Being queer, black, Christian, woman and ME makes me want to pass out!
I know that many people in my community know that I am living in my identity as both Christian and queer and that I do not see this “bothness” as a contradiction. I’ve never really struggled so much with believing that it was good to be both, which is different from a lot of people’s stories. There was a time in which I didn’t believe being a queer Christian applied to me, because well… I didn’t know bi+ people even existed until I was 19 going on 20. It was then I met for the first time in my life an “out” bisexual person. That is a story for another time.
by Elijah Walker
This piece was first published in October 2017 and is re-posted here with permission.
For more than two years, I’ve experienced chronic pain, especially in my back and neck. I always thought it was something I would just have to “live with,” and didn’t anticipate that it would ever get better or worse. It just was.
But in August, all of a sudden, it was more than it had been. More excruciating. More debilitating. More overwhelming. The first time I noticed this change, I was walking in a shopping mall with my sister. We had only been on our feet for a few minutes when my legs went numb and I started to fall over—I had to use the wall behind me to catch myself. It happened again and again. The next week, I fell on the stairs because my legs were numb again. I fell on the stairs a second time and then realized that this is very bad.
Being in a new town and a new community, I wasn’t sure if I could find the support and care that I need. Thankfully, I found a doctor who agreed with me that something’s not right. I also have a patient advocate (and I recommend getting one yourself if you ever find yourself in a frustrating health situation).
by Greg Woods
I will be honest and cut to the chase: Quakerism needs to be revived. Earlier this week, as I was working on my talk, I received a notification that a Young Adult Friend, Hye Sung, posted a new blog post. Sadly, it was a blog post where Hye Sung announced that he decided to leave Quakerism. He was inspired to come to Quakerism through the writings of early Friends, saying: “George Fox wrote about the Kingdom of God breaking into this world — and it came from within — this was the gospel I knew, the gospel I needed. Quakers were holy fools, apocalyptic evangelists, soldiers of prophecy. They were about liberation and creating the age-to-come. That was the Spirit I knew. This was the church I longed for.”
Yet after years of being in Quakerism, Hye Sung writes: “What I’ve found, instead, is that Friends have converged on a shared history and a handful of practices.”
I read his post with sadness knowing that I have felt this feeling myself and I have seen others leave Quakerism feeling a similar way as Hye Sung. I must be honest, I have had thoughts of leaving myself, especially as a minister who seeks to be of service to the larger Quaker body and with a family to support. I have thought many times that it could be easier to just go to another denomination and be fully supported. But every time that I try to leave, God keeps calling me back into the fold and it is in Quaker worship that I truly experience the Divine.
by Jonah Venegas
Something about foggy mornings filled with gray light always seems to pull me out of myself, in the best way possible. Still not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s the way everything seems to stand still and you’re more cognizant of all the little sights, smells, and sounds around you that might normally get lost in the chaos of a typical American day. Or maybe it’s the atmosphere around you that seems to whisper that it’s finally okay to let all your muscles relax and just breathe and be for once, taking a moment to slow down in our world that’s normally always running at a million miles an hour. Whatever it is, these slow, tranquil mornings always seem to return a little more of the perspective I’ve been missing throughout the rest of the week. And maybe we all need a little more of that.
by Eric Muhr
I’ve been thinking about the Bible. I’ve been thinking about the book of Job.
Because the story of Job is the oldest book in the portable library we call the Bible, I’ve wondered if maybe this story might be THE story. I’ve wondered about whether the other books could be commentary – a working through and a working out of the themes introduced in this first story, the story of Job: a story of suffering.
Unexpected. Undeserved. Unexplained.
Why is there suffering? The book of Job takes up quite a bit of space discussing the problem. Each of the friends introduces an idea as to the source of suffering and how we should respond. Job argues. The friends argue back. But it seems that suffering is not the moral – only the motivator. Without suffering, Job – a stand-in for humanity – might have no reason to consider his existence.
by Tiffany Graham
There is a tree beside the church I grew up attending. It grows in the quiet space between buildings.
Up in that tree was where I first found I could be invisible.
Not just hidden in a small dark place, but out in the open, vulnerable and exposed, free and unseen.
At the age of eight, I hadn’t experienced a lot of that in my life. I didn’t know what to think of it. I didn’t trust it, so I tried a few experiments. I made faces. I waved. I dropped leaves, sticks, balls of moss upon people as they passed. I dangled my legs and arms from the lowest branches, nearly brushing the tops of heads with my toes as my legs swung from side to side. When none of that worked, I cried. Fat, noisy, ugly tears that left my eyes swollen and my face red.
Nobody looked up. Nobody saw. Even when crowds moved through, conversing and laughing and arguing, nobody ever thought to look up as they passed under my tree. I could have touched them, they were so close. It was strange to me. Like watching a world where I did not exist. I remember when I first started thinking that way. While in this place, the world existed without me.
by Aaron James Krause
“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.
by Emily Provance
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.
by Jonah Venegas
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.
Renewal. Revival. Rebirth. Regrowth. Resurrection.
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.
by Nathanial Totten
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?
by Megan L. Anderson
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.
by Hye Sung
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.