Pendulum Swings

Sometimes, it seems like the universe is against you.
Like the bread always lands butter-side down.
Like what can go wrong has gone wrong
And will go wrong again.

Sometimes, life is beautiful,
And serendipity is your shadow.
The sun shines and the birds sing
And every traffic light you hit glows green.

Truthfully, life is a pendulum.
There are good days and bad days
And boring in-between days.
But it’s all just swing.

So in the end, we must remember this:
The rain falls upon the just and the unjust.
It is no sign of God’s wrath or favor,
No result of blessing or cursing.
It is simply nourishing the earth.

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For Parents: When Your Child Comes Out

Ben Moberg over at Registered Runaway recently wrote a really great post about how to respond when your child comes out. Ben’s writing is fabulous, as always, but it really got me thinking about what I would have appreciated from my parents when I came out. I thought I would offer a few thoughts here for conservative parents struggling to deal with their child’s disclosure. I’ve put it into a list of “do’s and don’ts” to make it easier (and less preachy).

I’d love to see thoughts on this from parents, as I’m still learning about how to deal with my own family situation and am not a parent myself.

 

Don’t make it about you.

You will probably have a lot of emotions when your child comes out. You may be angry or scared. You may feel hurt. You may worry that you were a bad parent or wonder what people will think. And in the heat of the moment, you may blame your child for all of these emotional conflicts. You may feel like his or her coming out is something that is being done to you.

  • Do think about what your child needs.

Coming out is hard and scary, even when you know that the people on the receiving end of your disclosure are allies. It is exponentially more difficult and terrifying when you know that your news won’t be received well.

It is easy to see your child’s coming out as him or her drawing a line on the sand, standing against you. It is easy to see it as an act of defiance or rebellion. However, consider it from your child’s perspective. He or she is confiding in you, sharing an important part of his or her life. For the person coming out, it is an invitation to deeper intimacy and more honest relationship.

Your child doesn’t need to hear that he or she is ruining your life, destroying your reputation, or behaving rebelliously. She probably does need to be reassured that she is still loved, still welcomed, and still supported. He needs to know that the risk he has taken by letting you in will be respected, not repudiated.

  • Do find someone to talk to about what you need.

The fact that your child doesn’t necessarily need to hear about all of your initial reactions doesn’t mean that they aren’t valid or that you don’t need to express them somewhere. Find a trusted friend, talk to your pastor, or see a counselor. Contact someone from the Marin Foundation’s list of parents or get in touch with your local PFLAG chapter. You aren’t alone in this, and it’s difficult for you, too. You deserve support and help.

Don’t preach.

If you have a conservative viewpoint on homosexuality, your kid probably already knows that. In fact, your child has probably been bracing herself for your impromptu sermon on Romans 1. But stop and think before you get out your Strong’s Concordance or your Giant Study Bible of Doom. Going immediately for the theological reasons that you cannot accept this news tells your child two things. First, it implies that your religious beliefs are more important than your relationship with your son or daughter. And maybe, in an abstract sense, that’s true, but it might be nice to give yourself some space to find a middle ground that both values your relationship with your child and remains faithful to your religious ideals. Maybe. I’m just saying that might be a thing you would be interested in.

Second, jumping straight into a sermon entrenches you in a particular position and shuts down the opportunity for dialogue. Your child likely did not come to this unprepared. Most people don’t come out on a whim. Most people don’t realize they’re gay and impulsively start telling people. This is likely something that your child has put a lot of thought into. He or she has probably considered the issue from all angles and has some well-researched, well thought-out ideas about what this means for his or her life and spirituality.

  • Do listen to what your child is saying.

Your child has put a lot of thought and effort into this. Give him a chance to tell his story, and respect him as an honest and reliable narrator. Understand that her experiences and emotions are valid, and try to understand her point of view. Receiving this kind of disclosure may not be comfortable. Be willing to sit in that discomfort rather than reacting to or running from it.

  • Do ask them for resources.

It’s likely that your child has at least done a Google search about being gay. It’s distinctly possible that she has joined discussion boards, read blogs and books, and generally done her homework about what it means to be gay and, if she is a person of faith, what it means to be gay and Christian. She may still be working through all of the information and deciding what she thinks, or she may have developed a firm, nuanced understanding of how her faith and sexuality interact. Regardless, asking what your child has been reading, listening to, and thinking about is another way of showing that you value his point of view and respect his ideas and opinions.

  • Do look for resources yourself.

Your child probably won’t have all the answers, especially to the questions that are particularly concerning to you. Fortunately, the internet is full of resources for those struggling to understand this issue. I’m sure that some of your favorite authors, pastors, and preachers have done some writing about the topic, and that’s a place to start. However, I would encourage you to move outside of your comfort zone and read other ideas, even ones you disagree with. You never know where you will find something interesting or helpful. The Marin Foundation and the Gay Christian Network are both great places to start. Also, Slacktivist has a whole list of LGBTQ+ Christian bloggers, which can give you some valuable insight into how your child may be feeling. If you’re looking for blogs by parents, check out Linda Robertson or Susan Cottrell.

Don’t despair.

This is not the end of the world. This is not even the end of your relationship with your son or daughter. Coming out is difficult for everyone involved, but it can also be an opportunity for growth, both in your relationship with your child and in your walk with God.

  • Do take hope in the diverse ways that Christians are finding to reconcile faith and sexuality.

There has never been a better time to be queer and Christian. The internet is humming with dialogue about this issue, and people from all sorts of faith traditions are talking about ways to live more genuinely into their sexual orientation or gender identity without compromising their relationship with God.

  • Do realize you’re not alone.

You are not the first parent to hear their child say those words, and you won’t be the last. It can be tempting to hide from what is happening, but if you are willing to reach out, you will find yourself in the midst of a beautifully supportive community.

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On Cakes and Inclusion

Alternatively, The Easter Post I’ve Been Trying To Write for Two Months.

On the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake.

Lent was a hard season this year. I set myself impossible tasks (as I always do), and I failed miserably at them (as I always have). I finally started dating the woman I’d been falling in love with for months, only to have a friend I thought was supportive tell me I’d “lost [my] moral compass.” World Vision set a queer-friendly HR policy, resulting in the loss of several thousand child sponsorships over two days. My friends threw me a fabulous birthday party, and my parents sent me the most perfunctory birthday card ever.

I felt over and over again through those 40 days as though lines were constantly being drawn, placing me outside of groups that once welcomed me with open arms.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake.

On Easter morning, I got up at 5am. I put the casserole I had assembled the night before in the oven and dressed in layers. The girlfriend and I headed out into the unseasonable pre-dawn chill to my church’s sunrise service. We met in a park and watched the sun rise over the trees. We sang hymns and baptized a baby and listened to the story of the women at the empty tomb. Afterwards, we walked to the pastor’s house for a potluck drunk brunch.

My church’s motto is “Everyone, everyone, everyone.” They mean it. We’re smack dab in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood in the queerest city in the South. We’ve got a little bit of everything: academics, queers, feminists, homeless folks, and homeschoolers. I’m always astounded by how openly we’re all made welcome. It’s an extravagant sort of love, a transgressive kind of grace.

All through Lent, I struggled to make peace with what’s going on between me and my parents. I keep worrying that this is something I’m doing to myself. I don’t have to be alone like this. They would pick up the phone if I called. They even reached out a couple of times at the beginning of the semester, asking for updates or expecting me to get over my snit and start speaking to them again. But at the same time, they are the ones drawing the lines that leave me out. In coming out, I attempted to include them. In telling me I was going to hell, being influenced by demons, defying God and them, they are drawing a line between us and then asking why I’m on the other side. Every time they made loud commentary in my direction about LGBTQ news stories, excluded me from a meal or conversation, or refused to acknowledge my identity, they were reaffirming that division.

On my parents’ 25th anniversary, my mother did the math and announced that she and my father had moved 12 times during their marriage. That averages to around every other year. Needless to say, we rarely lived around extended family, so we almost always travelled for holidays. Easter was the only exception, since it always falls on Sunday, so Easter became our holiday. My mother has made the same meal every year since I can remember: roast pork loin, hashbrown casserole, asparagus, spinach salad, deviled eggs, yeast rolls, and . . . The Easter Cake.

The Easter Cake was the centerpiece of the meal. It’s a two-layer dark chocolate cake, ridiculously moist, with a creamy, whipped frosting. Mom always made it the night before so it could sit in the fridge and soak up part of the frosting over night. She served it cold with pastel sprinkles in the shape of rabbits and ducks.

I have never been homesick in my life, but last year I almost got in my car and drove home during Holy Week. Since that wasn’t really practical, I asked my mother to email me her recipes and cooked the traditional Easter dinner for my friends, complete with The Easter Cake. Mom was ecstatic. Apparently your daughter’s first holiday meal is a big deal because she made me take pictures of everything so she could show her friends at work. Even thousands of miles away, I knew I was part of something special. I was making the same recipes that my mother and grandmother had made. I was carrying on a tradition of friendship and hospitality that I learned at my mother’s knee.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake. The Easter Cake. And on Sunday afternoon, I welcomed my friends into my apartment where they demolished most of a 9 pound ham, a double recipe of hashbrown casserole, two pounds of asparagus, a giant spinach salad, 36 deviled eggs, two dozen yeast rolls, and about two-thirds of The Easter Cake. (My friends are grad students. HUNGRY grad students who were all writing their theses and had not a home-cooked meal in weeks.)

There were no pictures this year, and I’m fairly certain my mother did no bragging the next day at work. But on some level, I am keeping the faith that I am still a part of that family, still a part of the family of faith, still a PART, because the blood of Christ, the love of Christ, the death-conquering power of Christ washes away all the lines. After all, they’re only drawn in sand.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake, knowing that many miles away, my mother was doing the same thing. It tasted like hope.

Easter2

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Some Days You Can’t Pretend

I’m having one of those days where I just can’t. I’m exhausted with holding back the grief and getting on with life. I’m exhausted with keeping a stiff upper lip. I’m exhausted with going to therapy and taking my meds and meditating. I’m exhausted with the fear and anger and isolation of being a queer woman from a conservative Christian community.

My girlfriend and I went to a friend’s house last night to watch The Normal Heart, a movie adaptation of the semi-autobiographical play by the same name written by famous gay rights advocate Larry Kramer. I knew it was going to be sad. It’s about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the crisis it caused among gay men in NYC. I didn’t expect it to hit quite so close to home. I didn’t expect it to poke quite so perfectly at all the sore spots I’ve been guarding these last few months. I didn’t expect to go home with my girlfriend last night, turn off the lights, and start sobbing.

A couple of months ago, after yet another friend from back home felt the need to tell me that I’m heading down a bad path because I’ve finally come to terms with my sexuality, one of my friends from school told me, “I’m sorry you’re having such a 1980’s after-school-special coming out. It’s not supposed to be like this anymore.”

My parents did not come to my graduation. Instead, about a week after, I received several cards in the mail. One from “them” (obviously written and signed by my mother) assuring me that they watched the livestream of the graduation and were very proud of my accomplishments. One from their church, a group of people that I have never met, and one from a couple from their church (also whom I have never met). The couple also sent me a $50 check and included a note about how they are looking forward to meeting me eventually, but assuring me that they understand how young people want to see their friends when they come home for the holidays.

Since I am terrible at remembering to check my mail, I just received these yesterday. As we sat in the living room staring at them, my girlfriend tentatively suggested that it was nice that my parents finally sent a card. “I guess,” I replied.

But really, it’s not. Really, I don’t want their card. I don’t want them to act like the good guys, waiting for me to repent of my sins and come back to them like the prodigal son. I don’t want them to act like I’m part of their church family, when I know that an openly gay couple would never be accepted there. I don’t want them to be able to reduce our feud and the five months of silence since to a selfish, impulsive visit to my friends.

There’s a scene in The Normal Heart where Ned, the main character, confronts his brother about his homophobic behavior. The character demands that the brother say out loud that they are equals. The brother refuses, and Ned storms out, vowing not to speak to his brother again until he changes.

I am not refusing to speak to my parents because of a petty spat we had about visiting my friends. I am refusing to speak to my parents because they are refusing to acknowledge me as equally beloved, equally forgiven, and equally welcome in the community of faith. I am refusing to speak to my parents because they consider my relationship something wrong and dirty. I am refusing to speak to my parents or welcome them into my life because they are only willing to accept bits and pieces of me, and I am tired of trying to trim myself down to fit their perfect, paper-doll image.

And as angry as I am, I am also heartbroken. It feels like I’ve been bleeding to death from a thousand paper cuts for months. There are days when my chest hurts so much I can’t breathe. The grief and sense of loss that comes with this kind of separation is constantly being reawakened. Just when I think the wound is scabbed over and healing, there’s a holiday or a birthday or some milestone or the other that reminds me that my parents aren’t willing to share fully in my life or to allow me fully into theirs. Just when I think I’ve got a good handle on things, I’ll see my brother posting about a visit home or one of my parents saying something encouraging on his Facebook wall, and I feel abandoned and lost all over again.

I feel incredibly blessed in so many ways. I have wonderful friends, a loving church, and an amazing girlfriend. But I still want my family.

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Checking In

This has been the hardest and most beautiful spring of my life. I wrote and defended my thesis. I started dating an amazing woman. I had a huge fight with my best friend. I went to therapy. I finally found a dose of anti-anxiety meds that works. I graduated with my Master of Public Health. I cooked Easter dinner for 15. I still haven’t talked to my parents. I’m still a part of the church they called a “cult.” I’m still looking for a full-time job and trying to make ends meet in the meantime.

I haven’t been writing.

Partially it’s because I’ve been so busy. I spent 12-14 hours per day at school every day for several weeks at one point. Finishing a graduate degree is brutal. Partially, though, it’s because I’ve been so happy. I have an amazing girlfriend, a degree in a field I love, a church family that loves and supports me, and full-time consulting work through December. Life is good. Blogging is depressing.
But lately my fingers have been a little itchy, and I know there are things I need to get on paper. So starting next week, I’ll be back to a semi-regular posting schedule!

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Whose Vision? (An Open Letter To Evangelicals)

Dear Evangelicals,

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times.

Homosexuality is just like any other sin. It’s no different from lying or gossiping or gluttony.

Except it’s not. You don’t believe it, and I don’t believe it, and I honestly don’t understand why we’re still saying it.

It’s different because we disagree about whether it’s a sin at all. No one tries to excuse lying or gossip or gluttony. Except, that’s not true, is it? Because we excuse those things all the time. We lie to save our skins or our reputations. We gossip and call it a prayer request or “venting.” We eat too much, drink too much, buy too much, and excuse it because it’s a special occasion. Those are just little sins, after all. They’re easy to excuse.

Obviously, homosexuality gets classed in with the big sins. It’s up there with murder and adultery. It’s the kind of sin that marks you as a morally bankrupt person, because no one jumps strait to the big sins. You start with the little ones and work your way up. So, obviously by the time you get to homosexuality you’re kind of the worst person ever. You’re probably a habitual liar and a bitter gossip and an all around general reprobate, and then you start sleeping with people of the same gender. Because if you’ve already completely abandoned your morals, why not?

So you think homosexuality is a sign of moral bankruptcy while I think it’s just a thing that happens. Some girls like other girls. Some dudes like other dudes. NO BIG DEAL. That’s a pretty intensely different way of thinking about something.

That’s not the only difference, either.  While most sins do come with their own label, no one uses “liar” or “murderer” to describe themselves. No one considers “adulterer” a vital part of their identity. No one uses “gossip” to explain how they see the world and are seen by it in return. (I mean, maybe they do, but that’s kind of unhealthy, and those people should probably seek counseling.) Certainly, no one is proud of those labels. (Again, if you do, please find someone to talk to.) But for us gay people . . . well, it’s right there in the name. Every other sin is something you do, but homosexuality is something you are.

I’m sure that you’re already gearing up some sort of argument about why I’m wrong. I’m sure that you’ve got your Bible open to Romans or I Timothy, and you’re ready to explain to me in painstaking detail how incredibly deceived I am. But you know that saying, “Actions speak louder than words?” Your actions have already told me that I’m right.

There are a lot of different ways to be a Christian. People from churches that sit across the road from each other may disagree about the role of women in ministry, the appropriate clothing to wear to the pool, or the type of music that should get sung on Sunday mornings. We argue about who is saved and how they get that way. We disagree about what the end times will look like and whether or not it’s okay to drink alcohol. But at some basic level, we all recognize each other as part of the same body. When you get down to the brass tacks, we recognize that we are called by Christ to love and to serve, and we are usually happy to do that side by side.

Except for the gays.

When I heard earlier this week that World Vision had decided to amend their hiring policy regarding queer people, the first thing I did was go look at their list of open positions. I’m six weeks away from finishing a degree in public health, and I want to work in international development. I’d pretty much given up on the idea that I would find a Christian organization to serve with. I’m a queer woman. I know where I’m not wanted. But suddenly, this week, I was a part of the body of Christ again. I was welcome as a sister, called by Christ to love and to serve alongside my fellow believers. It was a beautiful thing.

Of course it was short-lived. Less than 24 hours later, I was reading World Vision’s reversal of the decision, complete with an apology to their conservative supporters who were apparently “hurt and confused” by the idea of radical inclusiveness. I felt like I’d been offered a seat at the table, only to have it jerked out from under me while the rest of the group pointed and laughed. Because of course I don’t belong here. Of course, I’m not called to love and to serve. Of course I’m not a part of the body. Not really. I’m just a sinner.

Well I’ve got some news for you. The body is made up of sinners. We’re all saved “by grace, through faith, and this not of ourselves. It is the gift of God.” And without the blood of Christ, your name would be Liar and Thief and Glutton and Murderer. Just like you keep calling me Homosexual.

Sin is sin, and only God gets to decide what that is. Only God gets to decide if I’m forgiven. Only God gets to invite me in or shut me out. And on this side of heaven, we’ll never know who’s right and who’s wrong. You are not the gatekeeper to the kingdom. You are not the arbiter of righteousness. You are not my judge.

We are all sinners, and as long as the Church insists on excluding those they deem unworthy of the name of Christ, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face, because the only thing you do by pulling that chair out from under me is make me wonder if it’s worth it to try. I have gifts to share just like anyone else, and I want to share them for God’s glory. I want to live out the call to love and to serve in a way that honors him. You need my gifts. The body doesn’t work without all the bits and pieces.

So how long will you keep this up? How long will you keep cutting out healthy tissue and calling it cancer? There’s only so much slicing and dicing a body can handle. Excluding us doesn’t help anyone. It hurts us. It hurts you. And it hurts those we should be loving and serving.

So stop lying to me, and stop lying to yourselves. Stop making the excuse that you treat homosexuality “just like any other sin” and think about the truth of your words and actions. Be honest about what you’re doing to the body of Christ, to your brothers and sisters, and to the work God called us to.

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These Ashes (are for Sinners)

Erin Ashes

To a Pentecostal girl, raised without all that fussy liturgical nonsense, Lent has always seemed a bit pretentious.  Especially Ash Wednesday.  I mean, don’t y’all know that you’re supposed to fast in secret???  Lent seemed like an opportunity to show off what a good Christian you are by giving up something hard like chocolate or soda or Facebook, and it all began with Ash Wednesday, the day when everyone wandered around with crosses smudged on their foreheads proclaiming, “Look at what an awesome Christian I am!  I got up super early and went to church on a weekday!”

My, how things have changed.

This morning, I received ashes to celebrate the beginning of Lent for the very first time, and as I have prayed and pondered this experience, I am coming to a new understanding of what Lent means.

Lent is about repentance.  It’s a time to acknowledge our short comings as human beings.  It’s a time to mourn our failures.  Our fasting does not proclaim that we are the best Christians.  Rather, it acknowledges that we are the worst.  Lent is a time to heap on the sack cloth and ashes and contemplate our inability to follow God wholeheartedly.

Lent is also about renewal.  It’s a time to recommit to our struggle against sin.  It’s a time to draw closer to God.  Our fasting is not a symbol that we have it all figured out.  Instead, it gives us space to examine our lives and critically evaluate the ways in which we honor (or fail to honor) God.  Lent is a time to cut out the distractions in our lives and make ourselves uncomfortably aware of how we are living out our faith.

Finally, Lent is about futility.  For 40 days, we wrestle with our flesh.  We repent.  We pray.  We contemplate God’s word.  We abstain from the temporal things that bring us happiness and satisfaction.  And at the end of this period, we are no better able to save ourselves than we were on Ash Wednesday.  We wake up on Good Friday to find that Christ must die for our sins, that his death and suffering are the only path to salvation.  We recognize that all our feeble efforts are in vain because we are saved by grace, through God’s gift of faith.  And on Easter Sunday morning, we embrace the futility of our striving against sin and rejoice in the gift of new life, symbolized by Christ’s resurrection.

So on this Wednesday, as I wear my ashes, I am reminded that they are not a gold star that shows what a good Christian I am.  They are not a badge of honor or courage.  These ashes are for sinners.

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