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Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

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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I wanted to do this
In my own time
To wait until I was ready
Until I had the answers
Rather than questions
I’m still asking myself

I wanted to do this
When I felt secure
To wait until I’d talked
With those I owe
Deep levels of trust
To share face to face
Or at least Skype to Skype

I wanted to do this
After I’d told my family
To wait until the perfect moment
Had revealed itself
And I was ready for
Every potential response

I wanted to do this
When I knew how to explain
Forty years of truth
Buried so deep
All I knew was brokenness

There is an awkwardness in
Maintaining silence
My safety net of procrastination
Wrapped tightly
Trying to contain the
Chaos of rediscovery

But something happened

Ten thousand children
Thrown away
And my silence feels like complicity
My safety net of waiting
Feels wrapped around my throat
Taking away my breath
Cutting off the words I ache to speak

There is no right time
I may never be ready
I may never be able to explain
There is only the moment now
And in this moment
My safety net must unravel
Else I lose the ability to speak

Heart broken

Ten thousand children
That’s how much some people hate
People who also claim belief in a god
Whose very scriptures teach
Love your neighbour as yourself
Care for orphans and widows
In their distress

Ten thousand children
Starving and in need
Support ripped out from
Under their precious lives
An act of hate
Called righteousness
In the name of protecting
Orthodoxy
From the scourge
Of homosexuality

How can people
Called to be like the god they claim
Who has named himself Love
Hate us at such a price to
Ten thousand children

Tears fall as words flow
Years of learning
Straight was right
Queer was sin
My heart breaks
Am I the only one
Who feels the stab of
Soul-crushing guilt
As if my existence
Is somehow to blame for
Ten thousand children
Dropped in a heartbeat of hatred
When one organization
Makes the tiniest movement
Towards acknowledging our rights
As human beings
Created in the image
Of the divine

This is also the price of hate
But unlike ten thousand children
I have a choice
I will not pay their price
I will not take on that guilt
Being queer does not
Equal broken
Nor does it mean excluded
From the faith of my childhood

I will stand up
I will proudly claim my truth
I will meet their fear
With love
For myself
For the world around me
Even for those who hate
Together may we stand in the gap
For ten thousand innocent children

—–

If you haven’t heard about what happened that caused ten thousand children to lose their sponsors through World Vision in the United States because a powerful group of people who call themselves Christians decided fighting against gay rights was more important than caring for the most vulnerable among us, you can read the details here, here or here, just to point you to a few.

I already sponsor a child through Compassion Canada whom I plan to continue sponsoring until she ages out of the program. I am pondering sponsoring another child through World Vision Canada which follows Canadian laws regarding non-discrimination.

You’re also welcome to visit my other online home at Poeming Out where this will also be posted.

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“I want to ask you a question.”

“Sure,” I replied. Seemed only fair since we were meeting for tea because I was curious about the master’s program in Spiritual Psychology my colleague was taking.

“How do you feel about mirrors?”

“How do I feel about … what?” I hesitated, sure the noise in the coffee shop had garbled his words.

“Mirrors. What do you see when you look into one?”

It seemed unrelated to our conversation. The response on the tip of my tongue “Fine. I feel fine about mirrors.” But it wasn’t the kind of conversation where fine was a sufficient answer to everything.
I paused and chose honesty.

“They’re not my favourite thing in the world, but it’s improving from the ‘avoid-really-looking’ place it used to be. I’m slowly learning to look and really see myself.”

That was September 23rd.

I’ve been thinking about mirrors ever since and what I see has been changing. In good ways. In ways I never imagined were possible. In ways that are allowing me to see myself with kindness and acceptance.

As part of that journey, I decided to take Vivienne McMaster‘s 10 day Beloved Beginnings course. It’s an easy, dip your tip-toes in kind of introduction to the life-changing and powerful gift that Vivienne is bringing to the world by teaching people to use self-portraits as a way to see yourself with compassion.

It started with a simple exercise. Put one hand over my heart and whisper a little love to the woman I am today. And then use the other hand to take a photo. Late one night after I was ready for bed, I tried out the suggestions that Vivienne had given. Words like “You’re enough” and “It’s all going to be okay” but I realized that those weren’t the words I needed to hear in that moment. What I needed was to speak three small words out loud and hear them quietly ring in my ears.

I needed to say out loud the words that had become true to me in a moment of surprising clarity a few days before as I’d continued to ponder why I felt the way I did about mirrors.

With my hand on my heart, I whispered the words quietly, hesitantly, questioningly at first. Trying them out to see if their truth still held up in the light of day.

I’m not broken?

I clicked the shutter button on my camera phone. I grimaced at what I saw reflected back on the screen, but the words, while unfamiliar, still felt true.

I whispered the words again, just as quietly but with a little more confidence. If they still felt true when I saw myself with eyes half closed, hidden behind glasses obviously thick even when they’re made with “thin” lenses, maybe they really were true. The shutter clicked again.

I’m not sure how many photos I took that night. Each time, I pressed the camera button, I said the same words over again. Soon there was no hesitation. The love I needed to hear from myself that night was a strong declaration of truth that was in stark contrast to the lie I’ve believed about myself for as many of my 44 years as I can remember.

I’m not broken.

Each repetition of the words allowed the truth it sink a little deeper into a wound so old I don’t remember when I first began to believe the lie.

As I continued to take photos, the words took on a new tone.

Beloved Beginnings Day 1No longer were they simply a declaration of truth.

They became a celebration of truth that I could now hear and claim as my own.

I’M
NOT
BROKEN!

So many of us have breathed in that lie. That we are broken, damaged, not good enough no matter what we do, no matter how hard we strive. But it’s not true. Even if you learned it in childhood, in Sunday School, it’s still not true.

Yes, you may do broken things. There may be parts of you that have been broken and damaged by whatever life has thrown in your path. And it may even be true that we have all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, but there is a truth deeper than that, a … deeper magic, if you will. We are all created in the image of the divine. At our core, we’re not broken.

I’m not broken.

You’re not broken.

At our core, we are beautiful and whole and we reflect the divine.

—–

So what about you? How do you feel about mirrors?

I’d love to her your story in the comments or over on the facebook page.

P.S. Getting to meet Vivienne, hang out with her, give her a great big in-person hug and say thank you was definitely one of the many things I loved about Soulsisters!

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