by Jarell Wilson
I am a pastor.
It’s a label I try and run from. When asked in bars or on planes what I did, I would respond, “I’m a community organizer” or something like that anything to avoid a label that carries so much gravitas and so much baggage. But looking at my life and reflecting on what I believe I’m called to do, only “pastor” adequately reflects who I am. Even in my law school applications, all I could do was preach to the admissions committees.
On December 23rd, 2018 I was checked into a hospital for people struggling with mental health issues. I didn’t go voluntarily at all, I went to the emergency room escorted by my pastor and a concerned lay person. I thought I would be a quick stop, the doctors and nurses would realize I’m fine, keep me for a few hours and then let me leave, but instead they transferred me from the emergency room to another hospital where I stayed for six days.
by Matthew Staples
In competitive fighting games, the words respect and disrespect have odd connotations.
To play respectfully is to play conservatively – you respect your opponent’s ability, and thus are focused above all on avoiding their traps and gambits.
Respect in fighting games is passive and reactive. When taken too far, it results in a playstyle based entirely out of a fear of adversity and failure, fear that your own commitments will be your downfall.
Disrespect, though, is pure confidence. You don’t respect the idea that your opponent has the ability to counter you. It is a complete trust in your decision-making, trust that your plans – whether meticulously crafted or entirely instinctual – will win out no matter what your opponent throws at you.
When a player is playing disrespectfully, they’re either going to crash and burn spectacularly or put on one of the best shows that fans have ever seen.
by Joey Rodil
In “Advent and Queer Bodies,” Joey Rodil waits with his queer siblings, in the face of homophobia and transphobia, for the coming of Jesus whose table is for all.
But we’re still waiting…
This past summer, I remember walking in my neighborhood in Chicago to meet a couple of friends. As I approached a group of men waiting outside a restaurant, one of them yelled, “Look at that f@& in short shorts. F@&!” Walking by myself, my body seized with fear and I learned quickly that I am more of a “flight” person when I feel my life is in danger. I crossed the street and ran down the sidewalk as I passed them. For a second, I feared they might attack me physically, but fortunately they only resorted to verbal harassment.
As a cisgender gay man, I am used to these occurrences, but I know that others have fared far worse. As of November 2018, the Human Rights Campaign reported 29 transgender deaths this year*. My transgender siblings were violently killed. Their queer bodies and lives taken away from our community because… well … we’re still waiting.
We’re still waiting for our bodies to be viewed equally as human.
We’re waiting for our bodies to not be seen as a threat to the church.
by Angelica Brown
When I turned 18, I decided to be a missionary.
Well, I guess it wasn’t so simple. I grew up in a missional church, and one of my favorite aunts was a missionary. And when I looked into her eyes, and when I saw her come home from long trips out of the country in her Birkenstocks and her battered up guitar case, and she brought me a small ceramic dish from Turkey, I felt her commitment to God, no matter what.
I wanted her commitment to the lord, but it was all mixed up with my colonial gaze.
So when I graduated high school, I decided to go YWAM, an acronym that stands for Youth With a Mission. They had a program where for three months, you pray and study with other young people hoping to go into missions under the tutelage of more seasoned missionaries, and three months you went on an “outreach,” where you do charity work and preach to people in another country.
And what a complicated experience that was.
by Elliot Coulter
For most of my life I’ve been afraid.
In the middle of the night, I would hear things. I’d wake up screaming and thrashing. Every night, I’d wake my parents with my screams and then try to fall asleep again on my mother’s side of the bed, clinging to her hand. I had to hear over and over that the dream wasn’t real before I could calm down enough to sleep.
Once I finally started sleeping in my own room, the voices didn’t go away. But instead of monsters, I often thought I could hear my mother’s voice in the middle of the night, usually asking for something (her Bible, some food, nail clippers). No matter how many times she told me she had been fast asleep and to stop waking her up with these “jokes,” I continued to go into her room, convinced that, this time, the voice was real.
In the Old Testament, Samuel hears the false voice of somebody he trusted. After coming to Eli several times, he learns it was the voice of God, but the voices I heard were not the voice of God. They were evil. I was afraid. And later in my life, I continued to feel that God had left me alone, giving me no voice or guidance that I could trust.
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 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 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.
by Eric Muhr
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.
by: Keegan Osinski
Someone once said in an interview, “Waterboarding is how [we’d] baptize terrorists.”
Almost immediately there was an outcry about the statement’s sacrilegious nature, the disregard for sacred liturgy, and the general blasphemy of equating the holy sacrament with torture.
But, like, isn’t that someone exactly right?
by Eric Muhr
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?
People don’t like the unknown.
by Enrique Cintrón
“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.
by Caitlin Stout
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…
by Eric Muhr
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?