Desire and Identity

By: Jenni Taylor

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. –Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

My heart is full of desires. Chiefly, in this moment, my desire is to be a strong and beautiful woman.

My grandmom, who died long before I was born, was the matriarch of the family. She was strong, and she was beautiful. Life was not kind, but she held her family together. I see her strength in my aunts and uncles, her prayers reflected in their lives, and I know her legacy lives on.

I am a teacher. A traveler. An actress. A daughter, a friend, a writer, an adventurer. I am full of titles, striving to live a life of meaning, a life that won’t be forgotten or lost in the void. But maybe the void is where I need to be.

I was lost in the woods of north Wisconsin once, with mosquitoes and ticks and aching arms. I looked around at the forest surrounding me and thought, I want to be nameless. I just want to be. I want to be my imperfect body with my soul swirling around the tree tops; I want to be naked and free, connected, and bigger somehow. I want to lose myself so I can become something more.

I say that, but the honest truth is my identity is everything to me. Letting go and becoming that person I was in the woods takes effort now. It takes intention, it takes prayer, it takes believing in something bigger and better than myself and my dreams.

I’m sitting in a cafe in Vietnam right now, watching the chaos of motorbikes and noodles and movable markets. I am blessed, and I am humbled. Yes, I want to be strong and beautiful, but by God do I also want to be connected to the lives surrounding me, the millions and billions of lives searching for peace and meaning and strength, just as I am. So I pray:

Thank you for being bigger and better than I am. Thank you for the desires of my heart. Thank you for life, opportunities, and choices. Help me to love. Help me to give. Help me to become less of my titles and more of my heart.

Thank you for this beautiful country, it’s strength, it’s women, it’s optimism.

Amen.

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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?”

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