Desire for a Radical Chrisitanty

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

It is important to note that for the purposes of this article, the word “radical” is used in the sense of desire for drastic social, political, economic and cultural reform. It is also important to note the privilege that I, as a white christian writer, have in using that word. I encourage everyone to consider their own personal reaction to this article and its title if we had substituted Islam for Christianity. 

So let’s get this out of the way… I am a radical, anti-racist, sex-positive queer feminist. Oh and one more thing, I am a Christian.

As such I believe in the unconditional love of God, and in living a life dedicated to  the service of others. I believe in the power of prayer, and the power of the Bible.

I also believe we live in a racist society that privileges white skin over lack and brown skin. I believe that, as  Dossie Easton put it, “Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you”.I am pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage, pro-gender neutral bathrooms.  I know that many people, indeed even some people reading this very article may think, may believe that my beliefs are incompatible with Christianity. Some may even think that my desires, my beliefs, cause me to be separated, or distanced, from the love of God.

I however, believe the opposite. There is a passage from the Bible that is often cited by my friends over at Faith Aloud, at times when people see their work, or a woman’s reproductive choices, as keeping them from God.

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love –Romans 9:38-39 The Message Bible

I can turn to God’s love and know that I cannot be parted from the love of God, no matter what anyone else says. My beliefs, my desires, my thoughts, and even the opinions of other Christians, cannot separate me from my God.

Yet, for me I want more than to be able to claim that my beliefs aren’t separating me from God. I need, I yearn for, and I call for a view of Christianity that embraces these beliefs. In fact, I demand a Christianity that reflects the radical politics of that totally radical guy, Jesus, whose message was one of radical love, radical action, and radical welcome.

Riffing on Flavia Dzodan’s awesome article on intersectional feminism, I  would say that my Christianity will be radical or it will be bullshit. Let me say that again, my Christianity will be radical or it will be bullshit. I don’t think this means everyone’s Christianity needs to be as radical as mine, but I do desire to have a place in the world of Christianity. I need a powerful Christianity that challanges me to be a better adovocate for justice in this world, but I also know that my desires aren’t everyone’s desires. 

I desire worship services that reflect my beliefs, I desire churches that seek out and support marginalized people, I desire sermons that discuss how difficult and revolutionary love can be. But mostly, I desire a racial Christianity that worships this Jesus:o-JESUS-570

Yet, I am well aware that many people have no desire for the view of Christianity I am talking about here, and I think that is okay.  I am also called by the Bible to honor the fact that no one’s belief’s can keep them from being loved by God, and that I am called to love people whose views are different than mine. Indeed, love for each other, and everyone else is what defies us as Christians, or as the writer of John puts it:

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.–John 13:35

We are all human, our desires are infinite, but we all deserve a place at the table, a chance to voice our desires without judgment, and above all, we all receive, whether we deserve it or not, the unconditional love of God.

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The Ritual Of The Top Ten

We would be remiss to end this month of exploring the ever-evolving ritual of the “Top Ten”. As 2014 comes to an end we all want to look back at what the year has held. We have selected ten posts, not because they are the best, or the most popular, but because they have represented some important moments from 2014. Even though we have only selected ten, we have been honored by every post and every comment. We hope each of you has found lots of wisdom, love …and even a little lint on your spiritual journey this year. Happy reading and Happy New Year!

  1. A Prayer for New Beginnings— A prayer for anyone starting a new journey
  2. Millennials Strike Back with Professions of Love— A post from Jenni Taylor about the value of Millennials
  3. Ferguson: We Are Praying— A spiritual reaction to the racism in Ferguson and across the USA
  4. Fear Vs Self Worth— A post about bullying by a former Miss Arab America and a notMyKid volunteer
  5. The Choice of Leaving Syria–A post about one woman’s choice to leave her home in Syria.
  6. For the Love of ElephantsJenni Taylor thoughts on justice for all of God’s creatures 
  7. It’s Your Church Too— Patrick Cousins,a campus minister at Saint Louis University, writes about LGBTQ justice
  8. Secular Spirituality: Is That a Thing?–Hailey Kaufman’s eloquent post on atheism and spirituality
  9. Strength To Endure–a reflection on sexism and strength after the shootings in Santa Barbara by Autumn Elizabeth 
  10. Fear and Hunger for Justice–Hafsa Mansoor writes about fear and justice as a Muslim

A Prayer As We Work For Equality

Dear Spirit of Glorious Wisdom,

Give us the strength, love and wisdom

to stand for something more than ourselves,

to believe in a world of justice here on this planet,

to act with love in the face of inequality and hatred.

Let us reach out to the people that society has persecuted.

Let us live towards a better world,

where equal rights are a certainty, not a just the dream of a great man,

where no one is beaten because of who they love,

where no child’s life is worth more than any other’s.

Let us continue to work for equality for all the people of your earth.

Let our actions reflect your wise spirit and your vision of a more just world.

Amen

It’s Your Church Too

10304700_10100837314741541_5443715570065754002_nToday’s post is from Patrick Cousins, who works as a campus minister at Saint Louis University. Patrick grew up outside of New Orleans and spent fifteen years in a Catholic religious order, teaching in high schools in Zimbabwe, Louisiana, and Arizona before moving to St. Louis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His post is a beautiful reflection on what LGBTQ people of faith can face and really relates to Autumn’s post about her own experiences with the church as an LGBTQ person. His post is filled with insight, wisdom and hope for LGBTQ people, and really all people of faith.

I have worked as a campus minister at Saint Louis University (a Jesuit university in St. Louis, MO) for a long time, and over the years I have worked with a number of students who have been in the midst of the coming out process. For many of them, religion has been a source of pain, shame, and confusion: churches claim to speak on behalf of God, and therefore too easily claim absolute and unchanging certitude for themselves. But religious communities and traditions can still be places of affirmation and growth. There is still plenty of misunderstanding out there, but more and more, members of religious communities are coming to understand that using appeals to tradition or church history or doctrine to deny other people the ability to form communities and relationships does not further people’s well-being.

For too long, members of  LGBTQ communities have been faced with terrible options when it came to dealing with their religious lives. These terrible options include:

  1.  Hide in plain sight. Religious communities that impose a culture of silence, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of situation, tell LGBTQ people that they can only be loved and welcomed if they wear a mask or simply don’t share their personal lives in community. That is no way to form healthy relationships or build trust.
  2. Deny your own experiences and self-understandings. As the Jesuit priest Tony DeMello says, “When reality comes in contact with a rigidly held belief, reality is usually the loser.” That is, when someone else gets to tell you what is true about you, your experience can easily be dismissed or chopped up to fit their beliefs.
  3. Leave. For too many people coming out means losing their spiritual homes, the rituals and traditions that have been so formative in their lives, and even feeling that God has told them they have no place in the community.

So, what would I like you to know about religious life as a member of  LGBTQ communities?

 

  1. There are a lot of straight allies out there, even in faith traditions that do not support LGBTQ equality. A lot of people are struggling with how to stand with their LGBTQ friends. For some of them, that means leaving their religious communities, but for more of them, that means offering a voice of encouragement and welcome. We don’t always do that like we should – we put a foot in our mouths, we don’t understand your experience, our cowardice overcomes our love and we don’t stand with you like we want to – but we want to make our religious communities and our society a place that makes real the love we talk about on Sundays.
  2. The God I believe in does not want you to lie. Having to pretend to be something you are not is no way to wholeness or well-being. If God knows you in your deepest self, then trying to deny who you are is like hoping God won’t know who you really are, and that seems a little silly to me. Trying to lie to yourself about who you are does not seem like an expression of loving kindess for yourself, either. Knowing and acknowledging yourself in your greatness and smallness and beauty and silliness is part and parcel of allowing yourself to know that God knows and loves you that way too.
  3. It’s your church too. Often enough I hear people say something about how if you are a Catholic and you support same-sex relationships, then you aren’t really Catholic (or whatever other denomination). It can feel like “the church” is really the leadership – the Pope, the pastors, the officials, but your voice and your experience matter too. I don’t fault anyone who no longer feels at home in the tradition they grew up in, and for those who stay, it can still be a challenge, but I know a lot of people who have simply refused to allow someone else to dictate to them whether they are “good enough” or not.
  4. The risk is worth it. I can’t tell you that your religious community won’t let you down. Mine lets me down all the time. But the alternative is worse: presuming that religion can only let you down, that religious people can’t change or will only act on their worst impulses, is a lonely way to go.

I could run through all the Bible verses that get used on either side of the aisle, but you probably know them better than I do. I can tell you about church teachings that have changed, advances that this or that denomination has made in its affirmation of the dignity of LGBTQ people and their relationships, but you already know what is going on; progress is happening, sometimes slowly, but there is still a long way to go for a lot of religions.

Instead, I encourage you to do something that is at the heart of the Jesuit tradition, the driving force behind SLU’s mission: reflect on how you see God active in your life. If God is active in our world, then surely God is active in your daily life, not just in headline-worthy news stories and political decisions, but in how you care for your friends, how you go about your job or your studies, and how you share your gifts with people. Think for a few minutes about how you have seen healing, reconciliation, mindfulness, and encouragement in your daily life. Think about the communities that have fostered that kind of well-being. If you can find a community that energizes you, keeps you engaged in being thoughtful and generous, and helps you to see the activity of God in your daily life, that’s a community worth hanging on to.

All are Welcome

By: Autumn Elizabeth

This is a story that is quite personal.  It involves my home church, and our struggle together to witness the equality God has shown us. This is not a story with a happy ending, or a story that is meant to chastised. This is the story about how I asked my church to marry me, and how this request was denied.  This is a story about what it means to ask for radical welcome.

When I joined the Disciples of Christ Christian church, I left behind a church where, as a woman, I was seen as unequal, and where I couldn’t embrace me whole self. Living now, far away from the home church that denied me the nothing except the one thing I asked for aloud I have come to face the heart breaking reality that although I still firmly believe in a Jesus who would have fought the police at Stonewall and a God that suffered along side Matthew Shepard, my faith in humanity finds itself on softer ground.

I several years ago, I asked this welcoming church to bless the marriage of my same-sex partner and I. There was hesitation. There was discussion, there was love, there was support, and then there was an answer. That answer was “no”.  The church continued to journey towards a place where that answer might someday be “yes” for someone else. But the truth remains, before I came along, no one stood for me. Before I asked these questions no one asked. Before I argued, no one made a peep. I do not mean to imply that I was alone among my fellow chruch-goers in my sexuality, far from it in fact. But the de facto “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of many christian churches, where LGBTQ people are not shamed, but not welcomed, meant that I had to be the one to ask, and I had to be denied.

My favorite Disciples of Christ quote is etched on the side of my home church. “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.” Indeed this is the quote most often shown to me as a claim that I must not force any church to be open and affirming of LGBTQ people. Yet, when one looks closely at this argument, it becomes clear that despite the importance of “all are welcome”, welcoming all people, regardless of sexual orientation, or gender identity is actually not essential. Thus, I use this quote to disagree, to advocate that welcoming everyone means equality is essential in the eyes of God.

As long as the single most important essential of disciples doctrine remains “all are welcome”, then in fact, there can be no questioning, no doubt. In all things we must offer charity, we must always have our hearts, our hearths and our doors open. What I offer you, I cannot deny to the person who asks me next. Acceptance of all people, blessing of all unions, welcoming of even our enmities is an essential tenant of Christianity, or at least it is an essential tenant of any Christianity I want to believe in. As people who beleive in the radical love of God, the impossible expanse of God’s welcomeness, we must let everyone participate equally. This radical equality means we must love and accept all who enter our churches’ doors, and it means LGBTQ people must be allows to participate in every ritual of the church. It also means that as LGBTQ people, we cannot deny ourselves access to being full members of our faith groups, nor can we deny ourselves the freedom to be open and honest with our fellow church members about who we are.  Finally, the radical love of God insists on all of us, that we not wait for someone else to ask for justice, whether we are part of LGBTQ communities or not, we all must demand that our faith communities act with justice, act with love, act with radical welcome.

My faith in human nature now rest, as it often does, on the next generation, and in the fact that, despite the outcome of my personal request I have done my part. I have ensure that when the next generation stands, they will not do so alone.  They will be able to look back on this moment, when I asked, you denied me..will you deny them too? They will know that someone, hopefully many someones, have stood up for the radical love that Jesus preached, and asked again and again until their voices were heard, “When will you truly welcome me to the table?”

Strength to Endure

By: Autumn Elizabeth

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I love the Ramones. Their music has always spoken to me, so it is no accident that the title of this post is also a title of one of their songs. I have been honored this past month to see the amazing post about the strength of people around the world to bear burdens, to survive hardships, and to live with grace and laughter. Yet I cannot help but notice, that most of these posts deal, in one way or another, with the burden of womanhood.

Since I was a very small girl I have been aware that there are burdens many women know that many men will never face. I have been aware that it requires a special strength in order to endure the label  “girl” and the labels that come with it like “whore”, “sweetheart”, “bitch”. The recent tragic events in Santa Barbara, California, have only made me more aware of what can, and does, happen when patriarchal ideas are taken to a violent extreme.  (For an intelligent summary of this check out Laci Green’s video on Elliot Rodger and the media reaction to this tragedy. It is worth watching but may be quite disturbing for anyone who has a brain and a heart). In light of this, and other tragedies, both personal and global,  it seems that we all must be more aware than ever of the strength it takes live in this world.

But here is what this month has taught me: we women, we who have endured  more than our share for so long, we have the strength to endure. Moreover, I have seen proof that despite tragedy and suffering, the strength of the human spirit, across all genders, sexual orientations, races and religions,  will always endure.  We all have the strength to continue to walk along the  never-ending road toward justice and equality.

Which brings us to this month’s theme of Equality. This month is not just about gender equality, it isn’t just about LGBTQ equality either. This month is about how if we all have the strength we can create of would that treats people with an equal love, equal respect and allows everyone equal rights. So show the world your strength, your commitment to equality and submit now! I, for one, can’t wait to see the hope and strength of spirit this month brings. And let’s all remember the wise words of the Ramones:

I have the strength to endure
And all the love so pure
I have the strength to endure
Because… because…

-The Ramones, Strength to Endure

Heartbreak, Marriage, and Divorce–Love Embraces It All

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By: Autumn Elizabeth

I’ve been thinking a lot about the life I would have now, if I were still married. I’ve been thinking about all the things in this life I have now I would have missed, and all the things I would have gained. Life isn’t always as simple as we’d like it to be. There isn’t just married and divorced, now and then. Everything bleeds together, and a little bit of the past always seeps out of a broken heart.

I’ve watched people lose everything when partnerships break, and I’ve seen people gain unbelievable freedom, I’ve seen divorce law work against everyone, and marriage inequality leave people without a legal leg to stand on.  I’ve seen the end of a marriage strip people of dignity and faith, and I’ve seen it restore belief.  I’ve seen all this in the lives of others, and in my own life.

I’ve also thought a lot about what it means to move on, to start over, and if that’s even possible. I think for some people moving on involves taking down pictures, and throwing away old love letters. But my elopement celebration pictures are still buried somewhere on Facebook, beneath almost two years of photos from my new life living abroad, but they’re still there. For me, the past doesn’t go away, life just steps in, putting ever more distance between the now and the used to be.

I haven’t forgotten how the refusal of my church to bless my same-sex union tested my faith in religion, but I also remember how the end of that union brought me closer to understanding the ways divine loves works through us all.  Where there is love, there is God, and my life, before and after my divorce, has been filled with love. Heartbreak just made me look at that love differently. Our hearts may be fragile and easy to break, the love of the universe is far sturdier.

Love flows through broken hearts, and wedding vows, it continues whether we erase our past or relish it, whether governments and churches sanctify or vilify it. Love continues even when we doubt its very existence. Love is there, in the smile of a stranger, and the hug of a friend, in the blessings and the break-ups.  Love lives, today and every day, and even the whole world’s collective heartaches can’t break it.

I’ve seen a lot for my time on this planet. I’ve been engaged to my high school sweetheart, I’ve eloped to Paris with a brave Midwestern woman , I’ve had an un-blessed, illegal marriage, and a lawless divorce,  and I’ve moved across an ocean for a new love. Everything bleeds together, the good and bad, the past and the present, the wedding vows and the divorce papers, it all runs together and somehow love embraces it all.

All are Welcome

All are welcome. These three words are powerful, at least, when they are backed up by actions. These three words drew me to the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) denomination many years ago. When I was left feeling isolated by the Catholic Church due to my gender, my sexual orientation, and my age, I found welcome at a Disciples of Christ congregation. Everyone was welcome at the table, which meant I could bring all my friends and they could partake in communion. I heard “all are welcome” preached from the pulpit and the pews.

Then, I began to find the discrepancies. Non-white members were left to feel isolated, same-sex couples were forced to hide who they were and refused access to church services. All were not welcome it seemed.

After my former partner and I were not allowed to be married at the church I had joined seeking welcome, I was disheartened. If even the denominations that preach welcome aren’t welcoming…where can the rejected go? What would Jesus, who practiced a most radical type on inclusion, have to say about this hypocritical exclusion?

It took me a long time to see that while the Holy Wisdom I have come to understand through Jesus is about divine inclusion, the church is run by humans.  Just like it took me a while to forgive my home church and my denomination for its errors, it took my home church and my denomination a while to figure out the best way to live their creed.

A few days ago, the Disciples of Christ adopted this resolution on inclusion. It is a remarkable step in the right direction.  There is still a long way to go, but as people of faith, people who believe in the wisdom of radical inclusion, we must strive to be living examples of these three powerful words–all are welcome.

Straight Lines Move Around Me

Today we have another reaction to the DOMA decision by the United States Supreme Court. Brittany, a masculine-of-center lesbian poet with a background in psychology, shares her perspective on the events through poetry that sings like a hymn, uplifts like a prayer, and breathes like a meditation. The beauty of her words gives us all some wisdom and love upon which we can focus. 

straight lines move around me
unphased,
though in my heart
i feel so much has changed,
so much progress has been made
so much is left to attain
yet to stiff lines
this is another ordinary day
another hustle bustle
through which they must work,
while the air i breathe
has turned vibrant
vivid rainbow hues abound
cacophony has turned to music
my feet move lightly
bearing no heavy load,
my shoulders have dropped
the dead weight of despondency
as they rose so high
in pride with new purpose
turning to face forward
with unobstructed momentum
closer to making manifest
what,
as inherently right,
should not even have to happen

Uncomfortable? Please Don’t Be.

Today Jenni offers us another perspective on the recent political events in the United States, and adds a plea for wisdom and love in our treatment of all people, and faith in our belief in God.

By: Jenni Taylor

Prop 8 has been shut down, married gay couples will now have legal rights, and abortion clinics will remain open in Texas for the time being.

Some of you out there are freaking out a little. Maybe even a lot.

This post is for you.

I want to say, I love you. To my family and friends that have been struggling with the moral implications of these decisions, I respect and love you so much for wanting to do what is right and hold to your convictions. Abortion and gay marriage have been the hot moral topics for a long time now, and with these decisions in the past few days, I understand why your head is spinning.

But if you are uncomfortable, please don’t be.

If there’s anything I know, it’s that God’s fingerprints are prints of love. We see them in the stars, in hugs, in families, in loving relationships. Trust with me that his fingerprints are all over the place right now, giving purpose, life and love to everything he touches. He touched you, didn’t he?

A wise person once told me, “Love God. Love people.” In the chaos of trying to know what is wrong and what is right, I go back to those solid wise words, and the world isn’t such a confusing place after all. To me, the beauty of all these recent politics is that we are one step closer to a life with less fear and more love, a life where loving people and teaching others to love people just got easier.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 35, 37-39