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Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

Maundy Thursday

There are only a few minutes left before this day is over, but I realized this evening that it’s time to share something I wrote last year on Maundy Thursday.

Even a few weeks ago, I didn’t think I’d ever share this poem. It still sat too close to my heart. In some ways, sharing this poem is also a coming out. Not that I’m queer. I think I’ve already made that clear.

I am a person of faith. For my world to make sense and my life to feel like it actually fits who I am in my innermost being, I am queer and I am a person of faith.

Maundy Thursday last year was when I knew that I could no longer just be one of those things. I had to accept. Otherwise parts of myself.

Saturday night, I am being confirmed in the Anglican Church of Canada, because that is the place where I have found a home and a community of faith that affirms and celebrates all of who I am.

To Patrick, Alastair, Bill, Gillian, Kevin and all of my church family at St. John the Divine (there are too many to name, but Michael and Paul get special mention since they convinced me to come to last year’s Maundy Thursday potluck and service), there really aren’t enough words to say thank you for welcoming me and helping me find my way back home. Instead I share the words I wrote last year on Maundy Thursday.

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Maundy Thursday at St. John the Divine

The altar stripped bare

each piece carefully and thoughtfully removed

layers peeled away

harsh, barren surfaces

and yet …

 

The light dimmed

The sanctuary in near darkness

and yet …

 

I cannot look away

I long to stand up

to walk out the door

to return to the life

I’d chosen away from

all of this

and yet …

 

As my soul is stripped bare

tears of anger and bitterness

of regret and heartbreak

stream slowly down my cheeks

and yet …

 

I cannot look away

I long to stay and never leave

this moment

and yet …

 

I’ve never felt so broken

and yet so completely whole

so lost beyond hope

and yet so relentlessly found

so without a single word to speak

and yet so full of truth undeniable

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Cookies and so much more

I baked cookies tonight.

I like baking and cookies are quick and easy.

These cookies are going to the Out of the Rain program so that there are homemade cookies when the youth arrive.

Normally that would lead to an extra happy baking feeling, but not tonight.

Before I started baking, I got a message that an old work friend died unexpectedly the other day. She’s older than me, but not by much. We’re close enough in age that it definitely gives me pause.

So there’s that, but while we worked together for three years, I haven’t seen her since 2008 and we’ve only kept in very occasional touch via facebook. I figured baking would feel therapeutic and life-giving, it didn’t. Not like it usually does.

When I started to tidy up, I found myself staring at the recipe card.

It’s in my mom’s very distinctive handwriting.

She wrote out the recipe for me many years ago. I was living away from home at university, and she decided to start a recipe box for me with all of the family favourites from her recipe box. She wrote out recipes of all sorts, but there are definitely a lot of cookie recipes.

I couldn’t possibly try to count the number of hours I’ve spent baking cookies with my mom. If you tried to count the number of cookies we’ve made together it would easily be in the thousands.

That might seem unlikely if your mom was the sort who only made a couple of dozen cookies at any one time. But that’s not how my mom baked.

She didn’t believe it was worth dirtying the mixer if she wasn’t at least making 6 dozen cookies of one type. Doubling or tripling a batch was standard. The chances that she was only making one type of cookies? Almost non-existent.

I can remember covering most of a large kitchen table with paper towel (my mom’s preferred method for where the cooling cookies went) and soon the table would be filled with cookies.

She had the biggest cookie sheets. Three dozen cookies on each sheet. With three of those sheets, we would just keep rotating them through. Sheet after sheet of cookies.

If it was Christmas or she was baking for something at the church, there would be hundreds of cookies. All magically appearing from the oven over the course of a morning or afternoon.

My brother would arrive as the trays started coming out of the oven. He could demolish a lot of cookies very quickly.

I was there, doing whatever task I could do depending on my age. Measuring. Mixing things. Putting cookie dough on the trays. Setting the timer. Putting the warm cookies out onto the table to cool. Filling cookies tins. So many cookie tins, filled with so many cookies.

My mom (and my grandma too) taught me to love baking and to love what that baking symbolized. Sharing what we had. Investing time to make something delicious. Love expressed in very tangible ways.

Unlike my grandma who died twenty years ago, my mom isn’t physically gone, but advanced dementia means she’s gone in other ways …

We can’t bake cookies together anymore.

We can’t talk and share what’s going on in our worlds.

I could tell her about my friend who died, but she wouldn’t understand, she couldn’t share her wisdom, and she can’t hug me like she used to.

That might be the thing the I miss most.

But at least I can make her cookies and carry on her traditions.

Triple batch of cookies complete.

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once upon a time I knew

Child of God

Created in His image

Christian

Believer

 

or at least

I acted like I knew

 

I did believe

I wanted to believe

I was scared if I didn’t believe

 

The GLBG

“Good Little Baptist Girl”

was what I knew

all I knew how to be

all I thought

I should be

 

but The GLBG

was always afraid

what if someone finds out?

 

what if someone realizes

The GLBG doesn’t

read her Bible

or pray

everyday

or even

every week

 

what if someone discovers

The GLBG would rather do

anything other than

pray out loud

in a group

 

what if someone discerns

The GLBG doesn’t believe quite

as hard as they do

or that the GLBG can’t

just take it on faith

because the bible

or the church

or the pastor

says it is so

 

The GLBG always knew

if she were known

she would be cast out

adrift

cut off

unwanted

unloved

because she was never

enough

 

Not good enough

Not spiritual enough

Not … something she didn’t even have words for …

enough

 

The GLBG knew if anyone

God included

looked deep enough

she would be found out

 

The GLBG hung on to faith

for as long as she could

she hid her GLBG heritage

and tried to live into

the faith she claimed

with freedom

and compassion

and grace

 

but eventually

she failed

 

even freedom

compassion

and grace are not enough

when you don’t actually believe

they could ever apply

to you

 

so I left

I wandered

I explored

I listened

 

eventually

I found words

for what was deep inside

 

I cried

I raged

I hated

I loved

I listened some more

 

The GLBG

slipped away

I learned

not to be afraid

not to hide

 

Goodbye GLBG

I don’t need you anymore

I am enough

 

unexpectedly

my path wandered back

I didn’t plan it

I tried to avoid it

but I found myself

at home in a church

where I am not afraid

where I hear words from the pulpit

that assure me of

unconditional love

grace

acceptance

as I am

 

a queer person

of faith

who doesn’t really know

what she believes

but does know

that if god

by whatever name you call

is to be found

they

 

(singular or plural

you choose

but definitely

non-gender specific)

 

they will be found

in the depths

in the darkness

in the margins

in the hopeless

in the lost

in the wanderers


This post is my entry in this year’s Queer Theology Synchroblog on the theme of “Identity”.

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A Story in Three Parts

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Rainbow lights for Victoria Pride

My coming out is a story in three parts.

The first was coming out to myself.

That might seem hard to believe.  The common coming out story about always knowing and living in denial is not my story.

For approximately 40 years of my life, I had no idea I was queer. The closet I lived in was big enough and dark enough that I didn’t have any conscious idea I was not straight. Until I was in my forties and on a retreat where I learned to stop and listen to what my body was telling me, I had never questioned my sexuality.

I had grown to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community.  The day I realized I needed to leave the church where I was working as a youth pastor was the day I realized that I could not minister in a church or a denomination that was willing to draw lines in the theological sand about equal marriage because of fear and prejudice. I remember my heart breaking at our denominational meetings when the vote was announced and the denomination decided that they would remove the credentials of any pastor who chose to perform a same gender wedding. I was upset about the lack of justice and the hatred I heard spewed during the discussions. I had no idea that part of my pain was because I was a member of the community that had been clearly labelled as second class citizens, as other. That was in 2004.

In 2012, I attended the Creative Joy Retreat and learned to listen beyond the “shoulds” and the expectations. I never imagined what I would discover. Questions surfaced, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what they meant.

On August 9, 2013, I wrote my way out of the closet. The words spilled out onto the page in front of me. Suddenly so many things in my world made sense. I wasn’t straight. I was queer.

The second was coming out to a friend I knew would support me no matter what.

I knew I wanted to tell this friend from the moment I figured it out. I had helped officiate his wedding to his husband weeks before I went on the retreat that changed everything. But I didn’t know what words to use. How do you explain that you weren’t lying to the people in your life about who you were? You were lying to yourself and you didn’t even realize you were doing that.

If you’re me and you can’t figure out how to say something important, you write it down and it becomes a letter that you give your friend to read. In case you wondered, there are few things that feel more awkward than waiting while your friend reads such a letter.  But when your friend responds with a big hug and the hugest grin of acceptance and pride that you’ve embraced who you really are, all of that awkwardness disappears in an instant. I wish I remembered what date that was, but I don’t. I just remember us sitting downtown under a tree on Government Street.

I told that friend that I didn’t necessarily want to talk about what I’d shared and that I wasn’t sure I was ever telling anyone else. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to answer anyone’s questions about how I’d been so unaware of who I was for so long. I wasn’t sure how I was ever going to explain to friends and family. I was worried about what it would say to the youth I had pastored and led. I wanted to maintain my privacy, because I believed it was no one’s business but by own.

I could not have asked for a better friend to tell. He supported me. He let me figure it out on my own. He was a sounding board and all the way along he encouraged me to be proud of who I was.

The third was deciding to be public; to be out and proud, not just as an ally, but as me.

I didn’t plan to come out.  Part of me feels forced out. I certainly wasn’t ready and I still feel that a person’s sexuality is really their own business and no one else’s. But sometimes things happen that mean you can’t remain silent.

On April 7, 2014, I hit publish on a poem The Price of Hate because I realized that choosing to be silent about my sexuality meant I couldn’t speak with authenticity about things that mattered to me. I shared the post on Facebook and emailed it to my dad and brother.

I was fortunate. My coming out has been met with love and support and understanding. And a remarkably small number of questions about how one gets to be in one’s forties before having any clue about not being straight.

The third part of the story is never done.

Almost everyday there are choices about whether to tell my story. To claim my space. To break people’s assumptions that I am straight. Some days I make the effort. Some days I don’t. I still think it’s no one else’s business.

On the days when I make the choice to allow someone’s unspoken assumption that I am straight to stand, a piece of me feels shame. A piece of me wonders whether I am contributing to the problem.

But some days, I need my privacy and I’m never quite sure how someone will respond. I see the posts on Facebook and I hear the news. I know that not everyone believes I should have the same rights or be treated with the same respect and dignity.

On those days, I remember the poem that I published this year and I decide whether I need to speak out and claim our space despite my inherent need for privacy.

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Pride Church Candles

2016 Pride Church Evensong Candles, St John the Divine, Victoria, BC

And so it begins.

Those seems the right words with which to announce the beginning of a quest.

I admit it’s not a quest I thought I would find myself on. Even a few months ago, the idea of it would have filled me with dread and I would have laughed at anyone who suggested it.  Yet, strangely tonight, knowing that the quest begins tomorrow, I don’t feel anxious.  I feel oddly calm in an excited kind of way.

If you’ve been reading before, you know that I have a … shall we say … problematic relationship with faith for more reasons than I can even begin to count.

It’s a very long time since I’ve been to church.  I’m no longer entirely sure whether I should use the word Christian to describe what I believe. It’s certainly much different from what I was taught to believe as a child or what I taught others to believe as a youth pastor.

I stopped attending church because I couldn’t deal with church politics and pastors on power trips any more. It felt like staying was stealing my soul. Three years ago I figured out I was queer and just over two years ago I decided to come out publicly. Neither of those things made me think I was ever likely to find myself looking for a church home.

And yet, here I am. Tomorrow morning a friend of mine and I are starting a quest to find a church home (or homes) where we feel comfortable and where the church is fully welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people.

I’ve tried to tell myself that faith wasn’t that important to me and that having a faith community to call home didn’t matter to me. The truth is … it does and it always has.

I’m not sure where this quest will lead.

Part of me doesn’t believe that a church home exists for people like me. I’ve spent too much time in Christian circles that preach hate. Too many people who still believe that “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a workable option. Too many people who act like they support LGBTQ people, but really still believe we are damned and going to hell.

Most days I know they are wrong and that God, assuming she exists, is one of love. But some days, those messages of hate are still ingrained in my soul and it feels like spiritual wanderer is destined to describe me forever.

But here’s the thing. I choose to be an optimist. I used to hold tightly to the belief that God can do more than we ask or imagine.

And so it begins, the quest to find a church home.  Maybe I’m on a fool’s errand searching for unicorns and fairy tales.

But maybe, just maybe, there is a church where someone like me feels like they belong.

———

For a whole bunch of reasons, my plan is to write about this quest.  Everything will be categorized under “Church Quest”. If anyone has been on a similar quest and wants to share their wisdom or experiences, I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. Also if you live in Victoria, BC and know of LGBTQ affirming churches in the area, feel free to suggest places our quest should include.

BTW, this has never been a problem before, but it does feel important to say this.  This is my blog.  I am proudly queer.  If you’re not okay with that and just want to try to change my mind or convert me, this is probably not a place for you. However, if you are honestly seeking to understand and are willing to engage in respectful dialogue, then you are welcome here.

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