It’s been a little quiet on the blog recently because … We got married! On an unseasonably cool day in North-Carolina-August, in the midst of the most torrential downpour, we finally, finally got married. Encompassed by the love of all our … Continue reading
The essay is an adaptation from Courageous Conversations: Christian Women Unearthing the Unspeakable (RCWMS Press, 2013). Volumed edited by elizabeth mcmanus. You can purchase your very own copy here!
I have a birthmark on my left ankle that vaguely resembles the state of Mississippi.
I started calling myself a feminist sometime in the tenth grade but really, i’ve been one since i flopped out into the doctor’s hands during my mother’s C-section. I was actually born again – literally. The doctor’s hands slipped and i plopped right back in, all squiggly and screaming and not ready for the cleanliness and paralyzing order of the real world. In precisely 26 days, i’ll be twenty-two. Twenty-two whole years since being born, and then born again.
And in precisely 14 days, i’ll be getting married. To a dude. Who wants to be a Methodist pastor.
Of all the interesting things there are to say about me – and, believe me, i find them all very interesting – it seems my impending nuptials are the most important to everyone else. Which is, to put it mildly, pretty frustrating.
It was the #1 reason why i held off on dating Jonathan as long as i did.
He was called to be a pastor. That was unmistakable – not just because of his gentleness and his ability to be present and yet unobtrusive.
Jonathan has termed it playing theological pick-up basketball: when we’re planted in our seatbelts or on the couch inevitably we end up debating Hauerwas or arguing over Pauline ethics. His otherwise hospital-bare bachelor pad had a Walmart bookshelf spilling over with theology- half of which he would just read for fun.
I knew what i was in for. My mother answered her childhood convictions at 40. Her first day at Duke Divinity School was my first day of sixth grade. I’m not sure who sported more acne that year from stress. She is a woman in a hostile man’s world, and she is a mother in a profession that has decidedly privileged congregational needs above the health of pastors and their families.
Maybe it’s the fuel in the gaslights, or maybe my if-i-had-a-dime jar has just cracked from the weight of the coins. You know, the jar for every time i have to endure “Well, I am not a feminist but I believe in equality.” Followed by how womyn who care about dismantling oppression inherently hate all men, and fuss too much, and really, what’s with the armpit hair?
I’m done with “equality.”
I’m done with people thinking a woman for Bishop means sexism isn’t still real in the church, that the apple cart shouldn’t be rocked so the church can grow (and get whiter and richer), done with the idea that in our post-racial society talking about prison and the new Jim Crow is bad dinner manners.
I really don’t like bashing other womyn, especially when i’m venting to a keyboard and not to breathing bones. But Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In phenomena (however passé that is in summer reads) just doesn’t cut it for me.
I can’t remember the last time i had so much table space, so many empty hours.
Summer is always painted a shade of allure: no readings to finish, sweet treats all the sweeter in the Carolinian heat. I graduated. I finished my Bachelor’s Degree, and with finishing came the flurry of packing and cleaning and thesis defending and family hosting and saying goodbye to beloved Mount Holyoke.
I’ve been so lazy since then. There are so many summer plans i’d made, and even after only a few days of crafting and working part-time i still find my 9 AM cup of coffee listless, quiet. I am trying to enjoy the quiet but the anxious tick of the academic in me won’t shut up. Won’t let me think i really can just breathe. Like i’m coming uncoiled, but there’s a catch in the spring that keeps reeling me back in.
It began with a trip visiting my aunties in some place called Amherst, Massachusetts, and my father speaking sternly to me over the formica kitchen counter.
“While we’re up North visiting them,” he said, “I want you to look at Mount Holyoke College.”
“Mount Holyoke? What is that?”
“It’s a women’s college,” my father replied. I think he even braced himself for my reply.
“A women’s college?” I spat. “Over my dead body!”
Famous last words.
“Son of God”
“Of Zebulun, fifty thousand seasoned troops,
equipped for battle with all the weapons of war,
to help David with singleness of purpose”
– 1 Chronicles 12:33 –
Zebulun, North Carolina, is the town that Israel forgot; the Wal-Mart parking lot stretches fatter than cars can fill, styrofoam cups piled beside crusting waste bins. There is not a truck without a Confederate flag or a church without a fire-and-brimstone mantle.
Nothing good could ever come out of Zebulun.
Joshua was about to turn eleven and, for his birthday, had asked for another My Little Pony doll. He imagined his own hair turning the same shade as the lilac hair that sprouted from her mane. He knew every song and every line from the DVD collection of the show his parents had first purchased for his sister some four years earlier.
His mother had taken him shopping for presents the Wednesday before his birthday. They were not of much money, nor of many options, so to the overflowing parking spots of Wal-Mart they went.
Joshua made a beeline for the toys section. His father had warned his mother that, being in middle school, Joshua had no business asking for toys anymore. But Joshua paid his father no mind, and so neither did his mother.
The cardboard sign for the Ponies had peeled, tight rows of brown corrugation interrupting the magenta and purple promises that “Friendship is the Best Magic of All!” A February birthday always meant the shelves were lean with all that had been pulled from deep storage after the holidays. None of the toys corresponded with the price tags and there were dents in the plastic casing.
Joshua, however, did not notice the desolation. With glee, he fingered the edge of the princess pony. The packaging was particularly damaged, which was probably why the doll was left in the wake of Christmas. Joshua looked expectantly at his mother. He lifted his eyebrows, a smile tucked in the corner of his face.
Joshua’s mother gave him a gentle grin in return, lifting the toy off the rack and leading him back to the checkout. The man running the register shot a questioning look at the doll, and then at Joshua, but he bagged it anyway.
[SPOILER ALERT: the following author’s note contains details from the full story!]
I don’t think it is my best work.
But it is the story i have tried to write all semester.
The assignment was to write a story inspired by a newspaper article. I was home for Jonathan’s birthday and the Durham Herald was unfurled on our kitchen table. I combed through, looking for something to supplement my usual off-beat attempted-humor. Instead, i read “When Reality isn’t Magical for Youth,” an op-ed by Lydia Lavelle. She was writing about an eleven-year-old boy who had attempted suicide after being bullied for loving My Little Pony.
I wept. He was only eleven years old. He was only eleven years old.
The story was born then, with only a few of the fact of Michael’s reality before me: he was eleven, he was bullied for liking “girl’s toys” and he had tried to kill himself. I know now, from following his facebook page, that his youth group and church community has surrounded him and his family with true Christian love. I am so glad my story is not what really happened.
I want to make one thing very, very clear: my short story is fictional. It is not Michael’s story, i am not telling it for him, and you can follow his story and make a donation to support his recovery on MichaelMorones.org.
I wrote my story based on what i have seen and known growing up in North Carolina, growing up as someone who chooses Jesus and chooses love without seeing these choices as conflicting.
And as glad as i am that my story is fictional, i do believe the truth in it is, tragically, very real.
I crafted the story intentionally to sound almost Biblical, littering it with so many references it clobbers any Biblical scholar over the head with symbolism. I did this because i think Jesus condemns hypocrisy as much as God loves all of us.
It fascinates me that people who read this story often assume Joshua, the little boy inspired by Michael, is gay. Though i am of the John Green bent that books/stories belong to their readers, i do want to say i never wrote this story with Joshua’s sexuality in mind. I wanted to dip into a deeper critique: that we associate gender so inextricably with sexuality, that we think feminine things are so degrading that boys liking pink things must immediately be of a “lesser” or “deviant” sexuality, that humans have the ability to so shame a little boy for loving something that he thinks his life is no longer worth living.
Of course the narrative of gay kids being forced in the closet by conservative Christian communities is a real thing. But what scares me so much is that the very idea of being gay – of being a feminine boy, of liking something designed for girls, God forbid – is so repulsive, so pervasive, that it drives children to suicide. At that point, though sexuality is important, the reality of a person’s sexuality becomes almost a moot point because the taboo has more power than reality.
I didn’t write this story exclusively to show how queer people ought to be loved by Christians the way queer people are loved by Christ. I wrote it to show what a culture of hatred, of homophobia and of exclusion, can do.
Because if we call ourselves Christians, we all have to remember that which Mother Theresa taught us: Every one of them is Jesus in disguise.
Sermon, April 27th, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley, MA.
Text: John 20: 19 – 31
Resurrection happens while it is still dark.*
Our text this morning picks up immediately after last week. It is evening of the same day, the same day when earlier that morning Mary Magdalene had found the empty tomb. She had run to tell the disciples – and though Peter and the Beloved Disciple saw the tomb, they returned home. Jesus appeared to Mary, calling her by name. But the disciples, we are told as this story unfurls, are gathered in a locked room, afraid.
Resurrection happens while it is still dark.
Even though the disciples have heard the good news, even though some have seen for themselves the miracle of the empty tomb – they are gathered in a locked room, filled with fear. Fear of what has happened to Jesus, fear of the Pharisees, yes.
But what if the disciples were also afraid of the empty tomb? What if they were afraid of what the resurrection meant?
And then, in the midst of the locked room clouded with fear, Jesus appears. Jesus shows the disciples the wound in his side and his hands and feet. And it is only then, only after the disciples can see that his new body is the same broken one laid in the tomb, it is only then that we are told all believe. Jesus breathes on them, wishing peace upon them.
This had to be a bizarre encounter for the disciples. They have already been through so much. As bright and lily-filled as our Easter is now, as full of resounding joy, that first Easter was filled with trepidatious wonder.
A pastor once told me that there are only two reasons why people come to church. And these are two, simple, questions:
“Is it true? Can God be trusted?”
“Is it true? Can God be trusted?”
I think these questions have existed long before our resounding trumpets and lily-filled services. I think on that day, the day that Mary Magdalene saw our Lord at the empty tomb, the day that the disciples gathered in fear in a locked room – i think on that day, they were asking the same questions.
Is it true? Can God be trusted?
Jesus leaves the disciples, who are filled with wonder.
But Thomas, called the twin, was not there. We are not told why, but we are told that Thomas’ absence is what leads Thomas to doubt the disciples’ story. Thomas does not believe that the risen Jesus walked with his friends.
I think “Doubting Thomas” gets a bad name. It’s almost as if Thomas has become his surname, like he is known first and foremost by the nickname doubting. But to me, Thomas has always been where i find myself in this story. Resurrection is a wild and wondrous event. Resurrection is the promise that death is not final, that God can be trusted.
But resurrection also happens while it is still dark. And in the dark it can be hard to choose to believe.
Thomas had watched his friend, the man he believed to be the son of God, brutally killed. He knew the reality of death and the incredulity of life after death. I think his doubts are completely understandable. He is a man who has suffered much and who has been promised that which seems impossible.
And yet, Jesus re-appears to the disciples a week later – and this time, Thomas is among them.
Jesus invites Thomas to touch him in the side, to see the wounds in his hands.
Jesus tells Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” So often i think we hear this as a reprimand, as Jesus shaming Thomas for needing tactile evidence in order to believe in the risen Christ.
But i see this as a commission. Jesus appeared to Thomas while Thomas was still doubting. He did not wait for Thomas to believe. Jesus invited Thomas to touch him, beckoned Thomas to step from doubt into faith.
And though Thomas doubted Jesus, Jesus never doubted Thomas.
Jesus blesses Thomas as he blesses us all.
Nadia Bolz-Weber writes that “Easter isn’t about making us perfect; it is about making us new.”
And newness, new life, doesn’t heal the wound in Jesus’ side. New life does not free Thomas of his doubts, does not free the disciples of their fear. But like Mary Magdalene, we are called to believe anyway. Believe when we are full of doubt, believe when we are terrified, believe when all we want to do is lock ourselves away from the world.
For the wildness, the wonder of resurrection is with us, even while it is still dark.
* Barbra Brown Taylor, “Learning to Wait in the Dark”
Cue: blog about how utterly anticlimactic it was to shove three $30 binders fat with 119 pages into professor’s mailboxes. Subsequent happy dance, alone, in dimly lit department lounge. Mild asthma attack.
Slow walk back to dorm, took brief nap.
Response: photoshoot with self, thesis, and about 2/3 of the books consulted and employed in the writing process.
T-minus six days until the defense.
Almost a year ago, the amazing Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece on the CNN Belief Blog entitled “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” Of the many reasons she elucidates, she fundamentally argues that the contemporary church must be more authentic and, consequentially, extend Jesus-like love to all people:“Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving . . . “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance . . . “We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.”
Last Wednesday, bundled in my wool coat against the (unwelcome) mid-April freeze, friends and i made our way to our neighboring school, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Two weeks prior, UMass became home to the first out Division I basketball player, Derrick Gordon. It was a huge moment for the Pioneer Valley, and a huge moment for breaking down homophobic barriers in a traditionally masculinist, homophobic space.
And not a few days later did the infamous Westboro Baptist Church announce that they would be making camp at UMass to protest Derrick’s courage. (Well, that’s not the way put it, but you know what i mean.)
I sprang into action, contacting as many of my Mount Holyoke friends as i could rallying around a counter-protest. Of course, the folks at UMass were doing the same thing, but rather than giving the WBC more airplay by orchestrating a massive counter-protest, these leaders created something called #UMassUnited. A movement, a march, and a rally focused on creating an uplifting, queer-positive space that celebrated the love between people of any gender and the love of our wider community. So that Wednesday, we MHC pilgrims rolled up with our poster boards and scarves ready to join their ranks.
We wanted to outshine the WBC so much that our love was greater than the hate they bore on their signs. We wanted to show that Derrick Gordon is a whole human being, whose sexuality should not have to be so politicized as it is only one facet of his identity. And we wanted to embrace all among us who were scarred by the venom spewed by the WBC.
That night, watching video clips and reading articles covering the demonstration, i knew we’d been successful. Almost every news outlet mentioned the #UMassUnited protest before mentioning the five WBC people who decided to show up for twenty minutes across campus.
I was quite chuffed to find my own sign was mentioned here, on LGBTQ Nation, and littered across Instagram. I meant every word and i was grateful that LGBTQIA people were so excited to see a Christian in their ranks.
But it was even more exciting to me to see how many other Christian signs there were in the crowd, people taking a stand for love and reclaiming a faith co-opted and corrupted by the likes of the WBC. Two of the speakers at the rally were pastors at local churches. The cohort of MHC students who i’d come with all bore signs with God-like themes: “God is Love” read one, another with 1 John 4:7 written out.
It never fails to amaze me, to humble me, and to keep me faithful when so many Christians come out for queer rights. And maybe this shocks me because, as much as i agree with Rachel Held Evans’ piece, maybe we are the majority. Maybe folks like the WBC have been given too much screen time and rallies like #UMassUnited aren’t as sensational to talk about.
I meant the front of my sign. I still mean it. But i had also made my sign double-sided, in part because i wanted people to still read it when i held it up in the air, and more so because there is a second message i think necessary to the one “Jesus loves queer people.” On the back, i wrote “Jesus Loves ALL of US.“
I was working very, very hard to mean the back.
The part about all of us. And as much as it singes my throat to admit it, all of us includes and included those five people from the Westboro Baptist Church.
The beauty of #UMassUnited was in the celebration of love, and in the refusal to give into the hate of the WBC. I may not welcome the WBC views, attitude, language, or theology. But i’m pretty sure Jesus would still welcome them to the table. Not out of approval of what they say, but because they, too, bear God’s image.
Whenever i am struggling to remember this all-embracing theology, i turn to one of my favorite human beings: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In a sermon given in 2005, he made this radical statement:
“This family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, “I, if I am lifted up, will draw…” Did he say, “I will draw some”? “I will draw some, and tough luck for the others”? He said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all.” All! All! All! – Black, white, yellow; rich, poor; clever, not so clever; beautiful, not so beautiful. All! All! It is radical. All! Saddam Hussein, Osama bin laden, Bush – – all! All! All are to be held in this incredible embrace. Gay, lesbian, so-called “straight;” all! All! All are to be held in the incredible embrace of the love that won’t let us go.”
I love that. I love it because we have a religious leader who has fought injustice after injustice losing no steam as he fights the next battle. I love it because he says God loves terrorists, God loves us in our often fruitless labels.
And i love it because it means God loves broken me as much as She loves Derrick Gordon and those five people who came from the Westboro Baptist church.