I accidentally wrote something more poetic for a theological reflection paper for my Life of Prayer class. I decided to share it because this reflection surprised me in many ways. Thankful for a seminary that helps me process in this way.
As a small child, I understood God to be like a seed planted in fertile soil. As I grew in my understanding of the Divine, so the Divine’s presence in my life grew up like a flower reaching to the sky for sunlight. Maybe God is a flower.
As a young adult in college, I understood God to be an overbearing, abusive parent, always telling me what to do and where to go, and if I did not do something right, I would be punished. Sometimes, bad things would happen just because God willed those things to happen and humanity simply had to deal with it. Maybe god is an ogre waiting to smite me?
Nearly two years ago, I wrote a blog post about how my church split, and it pissed off a lot of people. People I knew were reading what I wrote and talking about it on Facebook. Many of my friends were supportive of what I had to say, and that kind of validation was an amazing thing to experience. But not everyone was supportive. Lots of people didn’t like the way I talked about my experience.
They said I was angry.
They said I was looking for things to complain about.
They said I was just imagining things.
Not too long ago, I learned about Muted Group Theory, and something clicked. First developed by Edwin and Shirley Ardener in 1975 to show how white men create the dominant culture and in turn subjugate women through the use of language, this theory also accounts for the ways that dominant culture mutes people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, and so many others.
Sometimes I feel alone. Like there’s something wrong with me. Like I’m a bad person, a misfit – not fit for friendship. I feel that way tonight. I feel bad.
I think it’s because I’m remembering.
I grew up in the Unification Church. We believed that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was the second coming of Christ. We were called Moonies.
My parents dedicated their lives to the cause of Rev. Moon – a man I called True Father. Their lives were directed and commanded by leaders in the church, and their marriage was arranged by Moon. Our church community was tight-knit, and even though my life was mostly normal, my identity as a Moonie was central.
Growing up, every morning started with a full bow to a picture of Moon and his wife. I would read his words. When Moon was in the States, we’d go to his mansion in New York and listen to him speak. To make space for all the members to fit in the room and to be as close to Father as possible, I’d sit seiza-style, legs folded under the thighs. I made several pilgrimages to Korea, the Fatherland. These trips cost thousands of dollars. I believed they were worth it. Someday, my parents would arrange my marriage to another member born into the church. Together, my wife and I would join in the work of building God's kingdom on earth.
This occurred at a gay club, on Latinx night. Let’s be clear about that. The media, your social circles, your pastors, probably glossed over this detail. The victims were queer and trans people of color, many of them Puerto Rican like myself. Innocent lives, gunned down in senseless brutality.
Bodies that were queer and brown, just like me.
There is a profound horror in that.
It arrests me at every moment, washing over me in waves.
It could have been me, I tell myself, over and over.
My dad is a mystic and dreamer. Throughout my childhood, I often heard the phrase “you can pick you friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose”. With such wisdom and humor, my dad consistently brings laughter and moments of “what in the world?!” into my world.
For most of my growing up years, my dad was a pastor, and I watched him hold space for people to grow, break down, discover themselves (and sometimes God), while he listened with an open heart. He has been a chaplain, sitting with people in crisis, grief, huge and sometimes sudden change, giving them space to feel their feels and making them tea or a sandwich. I’ve always admired my dad’s ability to stay calm when someone else needs to freak out.
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.
A couple weeks ago, I was FaceTiming with a fellow queer friend, and we got to talking about something that seems to be rather ubiquitous in the queer world, particularly for queer people who were raised in conservative Christian or other conservative spaces, the second queer adolescence that so many of us experience in our late teens, early twenties, or perhaps even later in life, depending on your individual circumstances. While this isn’t an uncommon occurrence or topic of conversation in queer circles, a quick Google search also shows that it’s not talked about nearly as much as many of us have experienced it. So, we’re gonna talk about it, and small disclaimer: there will be a little more academic language in this post, just because I’ve been studying this in grad school as well.
Developmentally speaking, there are usually certain ages and stages in life where people tend to sort through specific things, and for most people, adolescence, generally between the ages of 13-17, is when explorations into identity and sexuality tend to happen. This is usually when teenagers tend to date their first significant other, are sorting out their own individual identity as separate from their parents, and all the things that come along with those domains. Or at least, I should say…for most straight adolescents that is. This is starting to change for the better more recently, but for many of us queer millennials and older, this probably wasn’t the case, which is why we tend to experience a second queer adolescence at an older age.
For queer kids, it's harder than most appreciate to find a safe space.
For those of us studying in Evangelical colleges, even primary and secondary private Christian schools, we're met with open hostility.
I'm one of you.
This is an experience few can understand and many belittle, and your peers' inability to empathize with your situation only adds to your pain. The emotional burden placed upon you time and time again by these same people is immense; most humans aren't asked on a regular basis to provide epistemic justification for their own existence. It hurts no matter the source.
Your family, your friends, your professors, your administrators, your pastors, the leaders pontificating in your space - it's suffocating. Somehow, your desire to love and be loved is a threat to the fabric of society. And you know that doesn't make sense. You know it's not fair.
There is a place – a family farm – that means so much to me. One hundred acres of trees, water, tall grass, and rocks. But getting there is the best part. The road to the farm is breathtaking: winding, full of dips and curves, bumpy in parts with stretches canopied by trees. Driving along that road, I can sense new possibilities, opportunities to explore. Life.
Which reminds me of a story. One night, not so long ago, I was preparing for an event for the organization where I was serving. I had been selected to lead in the formation and building up of the community through activities and intentional times of togetherness. As I was walking from my office to the room where we had planned the event for that evening, I was stopped by one of the executives of the organization.
“Hey, when you get a minute, I would like to talk to you. Are you going to be around?”
** This posting contains language that may be offensive to some readers but is important to convey the true pain that many youth suffer at the hands of their peers.
October 15th has become a day when awareness is made of the bullying that many LGBT youth experience. It’s become the custom to wear purple to stand in solidarity with those who endure this type of harassment. This is a very important day for me because I was one of those youth. For years I suffered silently, not having a safe place to share my feelings and fears. No one knew the hurt that was building in me for so long…but here it is…finally…
This summer I’ve talked about the ways that people of faith, in every generation, have resisted the death-dealing powers of the world, the forces that dehumanize and dominate. In resisting these forces, people of faith have also re-imagined what the world could look like, from the Hebrew exiles recasting their Babylonian captors’ creation narrative in a way that dignifies every human being as God’s representative, up to Mr. Rogers’ television-based nonconformity. So I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about a major contemporary source of resistance, re-imagination, and sheer joy in serving God and loving God’s creation: the gift of queer Christians to the church.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.