Sanctuary

Sanctuary

Last week at a Christian conference one of the evening worship services took on a spirit all its own. While it was meaningful for many, for me, it triggered some painful memories of people trying to “pray my gay away.” Because it has been a common experience for many LGBTQ+ folks, churches are not safe places or sanctuaries.

Later that night a group of us ventured out into the city to the local gay bar to dance. It was exactly what I needed to shake the bad energy from the worship. As our small group danced among the sea of people I reflected on the similarities between churches and gay bars. The darkness of the bar flashing with colorful beams of light was reminiscent of the light streaming in through stained glass windows. While I had been unable to connect with the Spirit in the worship setting, the rhythmic beats of the loud music lulled me into a prayerful, dancing, trance of sorts. The regulars, visitors, staff, and DJ, for those few hours were a community.

For decades, gay bars have been safe havens for the LGBTQ+ community. A safe space to be ourselves, free of judgment. The gay rights movement started in a gay bar in 1969. For the LGBTQ+ community the bar or nightclub is a sanctuary. This rampage was not just an attack on a bar, it was an attack on a sacred and safe sanctuary, a community of people.

When we, as people of faith, respond to this hateful action we must be acutely aware of the history of hate and discrimination that taints our well-meaning actions. We must recognize that for my beloved queer community, this was an attack on one of our sanctuaries, our safe spaces. But above all, you cannot remain silent, silence is complacency, silence is passive agreement. Stand with us and speak with us. Use your pulpit and places of power to speak words of affirmation and love for the LGTBQ+ community because it’s what Jesus would have done.

a queer reading of psalm 31

The myriad of voices and perspectives represented by the original Psalm writers invites the opportunity to re-contextualize the psalms to represent the experiences and voices of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, etc. (LGBTQ+) community. Each time we pray the psalms, we are applying them to our own lived experiences and interpreting it through our own lens. A queer reading of Ps 31 interprets the it within the context of the LGBTQ+ lived experience. It does not change the original Psalm, but adds depth to the understanding of the motives behind the prayer. In the book The Queer Bible Commentary, author S. Tamar Kamionkowski, invites the reader to enter into the Psalms through the voices from the .

“A great number of the psalms represent the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. Both through individual suffering and through ancient Israel’s national experience of exile and displacement; the psalms present a rich record of the perspective of the ‘Other’. The psalms explore what it feels like to be ostracized and abandoned by friends and family. The psalms represent the experiences of depression and spiritual emptiness. The psalms give expression to the feeling of being abandoned by God.”[1]

These experiences of being ostracized, depressed and abandoned by God are familiar to many in the LGBTQ+ community. The opportunity to see their lived experience represented in the sacred Biblical text can be an empowering experience.

Psalm 31 is a prayer for help with an irregular literary structure that seems to conclude with v, 8 and then start all over again with v. 9.[2] As Beth Tanner, the author of the commentary on this psalm in NICOT, challenges, “instead of assuming that those that kept and edited this psalm did not see its lack of logical order, could it be that the psalm only looks confused to a post-Enlightenment Western audience? Is there something we can learn from this psalm?” She goes on, “our lives do not unfold in logical order. Things happen that we do not expect, and faith and doubt are part of that cycle.”[3]

This double-prayer or repeating format is fitting for a queer reading of the psalm because the process of coming out is initially two-fold. The person must go through the internal work of coming out to and embracing their own identity first, and then must come out to their family and larger community. The process of coming out is then repeated every time the person meets someone new or engages in a new community and so the prayer may be repeated each time the person must do the vulnerable work of coming out. In that sense, it is a cyclical prayer for many seasons.

1-8 — First prayer for help in coming out to self
1-6 — Pleas to God for support
7-8 — Expression of trust and praise
9-24 — Second prayer for help in coming out to community
9-13 — Pleas to God for safety
14-18 — Expression of trust in God
19-24 — Praise[4]

 1-6 The psalmist is crying out for God to listen, to take them seriously and to offer security and safety. In Beth LaNeel Nanner’s translation the words “refuge” (vv. 1, 2, 4), “rock” (vv. 2), and “fortified/fortification” (vv. 2, 3) are repeated illustrating that the psalmist is in need of strength and solid ground. In v. 5 the psalmist entrusts, or commits her spirit, her life, into God’s hands for protection and safekeeping. For many in the LGBTQ+ community who have been the victims of spiritual violence the idea of putting their life and spirit in God’s hands can be challenging but v. 6 in The Message version could speak powerfully to their experience, “I hate all this silly religion, but you, God, I trust.”[5] Having a personal trust in God, separate from those who would construe God as disapproving is powerfully important for an LGBTQ+ person’s spirituality. By reclaiming a spiritual identity and relationship with God they are better able to withstand the “bad theology” because they know that God loves and cares for them, regardless of what anyone says. They are able to affirm and be grounded in the fact that they are indeed made in God’s image.

7-8 In vv. 7 and 8 the psalmist rejoices in God’s hesed, articulated in NICOT to be “both who the Lord is and what the Lord does.”[6] It is the essence of who God is that has resulted in the psalmist being heard and seen by God and spared from being delivered “into the hand of the enemy.”[7] (v. 8) In this queer reading, the first prayer for help articulates the coming out to self process and so the enemy might be suicide or self-harm. A Center for Disease Control study in 2011 found that lesbian, gay or bisexual youth are 4-times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers. For transgender youth, nearly half have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt.[8] Here, God has seen the psalmist by reminding them they are made in God’s image, an affirmation that asserts the value and worthiness of the psalmist. Having been spared from the enemy of self-inflicted harm, the psalmist can appreciate standing on the solid ground of self worth and value they so fervently prayed for.

9-13 Starting with v. 9 the psalmist is deep in the throws of despair again. Having come out to herself and affirmed her own identity, the queer psalmist comes out to her family and larger community which has caused great anguish, fear and distress. She is a disgrace to her neighbors, the object of dread, people on the street flee (v. 11). She is considered dead by her friends and family, discarded like a smashed pot (v. 12). She has become the topic of gossip as the community talks behind her back and debates what to do with her (v. 13). These painful words resonate with anyone who has been rejected by family and friends upon coming out as LGBTQ+. Young people specifically face great risk by coming out or being “outed” to unsupportive parents and families. A 2012 study found that as many as 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+ and seven in ten of LGBT homeless youth have experienced family rejection.[9] The risk is great and the prayers of homeless LGBTQ+ youth are very real.

14-18 The psalmist calls on God to intercede, it is through her trust that God is her God (v. 14), and on her side that she seeks God to protect and deliver her from her persecutors (v. 15) that she may know the warmth of God’s hesed, God’s steadfast love (v. 16). In v. 17 the psalmist again cries out to be saved from shame, an important verse in this reading since shame has been a preferred tactic used against LGBTQ+ people. The family and friends in vv. 11-13 that are throwing her out are doing so because they are ashamed of her. In v. 18 the psalmist calls for the “lying lips to be stilled” (NICOT) as they inflict violence and speak untruths in God’s name.

19-24 The psalmist returns to praise in the closing verses of this prayer. Similar to the praise offered in the first prayer for help in vv. 1-8, v. 20 celebrates the shelter and safety found in God, specifically safety from the human plots. Here we hope that the psalmist has found physical safety, but we are certain that her spiritual safety has certainly been found in God. The psalmist goes on to once again celebrate that her pleas have been heard and she is safe, for now. In vv. 23 and 24 she offers encouragement to others with the same experience. Encouraging them to “be strong”, and “take courage”, assuring them that it does indeed get better. Powerful words that have helped generations of LGTBQ+ people survive.

While this powerful psalm speaks to a unique experience of the LGBTQ+ community what is possibly more important is the opportunity to reclaim the Bible that has so often been used as a weapon of spiritual violence.  In Our Tribe: Queer folks, God, Jesus and the Bible, Rev. Nancy Wilson, talks about “Biblephobia”, LGBTQ+ “people who open a Bible fearfully, as if it would physically hurt them to read it. …For gay and lesbian people who grew up thinking the Bible was a source of spiritual authority, the word of God, and the story of Jesus’ love, the experience of being verbally abused with a Bible was devastating.”[10] Having an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the Biblical narrative is an important step of healing in their spiritual journey. This re-contextualized Psalm provides assurance to LGBTQ+ people that God does not and will not abandon them. A powerful reminder to anyone’s faith journey.

[1] S. Tamar Kamionkowski, “Psalms,” in Deryn Guest et al., eds., The Queer Bible Commentary (London: SCM Press, 2015), p. 320.

[2] DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy L., Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner, The Book of Psalms (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014). (Kindle Location 6477)

[3] NICOT (Kindle Locations 6594-6596)

[4] NICOT (Kindle Locations 6484-6488)

[5] Eugene Peterson. The Message. 2002. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2031&version=MSG

[6] NICOT (Kindle Location 544)

[7] NICOT (Kindle Location 6511)

[8] The Trevor Project. “Facts About Suicide.” http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide.

[9] The Williams Institute. Identifying and Serving LGBTQ Youth. 2012. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Durso-Gates-LGBT-Homeless-Youth-Survey-July-2012.pdf

[10] Nancy L. Wilson. Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible. 1st ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. (113)

In Praise of Sun: An original Psalm

In my Psalms class this semester we had the opportunity to write a couple original Psalms. This was one I wrote last week on the first sunny day Spring. A little silly perhaps, but what is to tell us that the unnamed reason for praise (or lament) in the Psalms were not weather inspired.

In Praise of Sun

1 O radiant God,
as the warm rays of the sun dazzle it is right to offer praise and thanksgiving

2 The wet winter has been long,
The longest on record,
Over 38 inches in total precipitation.

3 Recoiled in our raincoats,
We cried out as we traversed the puddles.
Day after day you let us drown,
Leave us wondering if we should stock-pile gopher wood.

4 Day after day the rain we curse under our breath
Is so desperately needed to refill reservoirs and build the snowpack.
Truly a mixed blessing.

5 Yet, the memory of the distant, hidden sun
Kept us warm as we ran to dodge the wet drops.
Unseen for many days we trust it will return.

6 Today as we bask in the glow
we sing your praise,
The sun shines again!

7 You did not forget us!
You kept the promise you made to Noah all those years ago!

8 I feel your palpable presence as the
Warm rays bathe my skin.
The blessed streams of vitamin D are
like the warmest and best hug,
reviving to the damp soul.

9 The annual return of the sun is a tangible reminder of your love and presence.
Not always visible, but always waiting to break through.

10 O radiant God of sun and rain
We offer praise and thanksgiving!

The future of the church

In August I started seminary working toward a Masters of Divinity at Bethany Theological Seminary. It’s a big and exciting step. As a part of this journey I was licensed as a minister in the Church of the Brethren, a small denomination with simplicity, peace and the radical teachings of Jesus at its core. During the licensing service I had an opportunity to preach. Here is the text from that sermon. 

Lacey Community Church
November 15, 2015
Romans 12:9-18

Some think that I and my generation are the future of the church. We are also blamed for the decline in mainline Christian church practice. It is an interesting intersection to be at, the future and the failure of church.

The Pew Research Center recently released a study done in 2014 showing what many already knew, there is a continued and steady decline in religious practice among adults in the United States. 77% of adults say they are religiously affiliated, compared to 23% who say they do not have any religious affiliation, a group that is affectionately being called the “nones”. The problem with that label is that is assumes that those who identify as “none” have no faith, religious practice or beliefs at all. Yet, the study also found that nearly 90% of adults, religiously affiliated or not, believe in God or a higher power and the number of people who said they regularly experienced a sense of spiritual peace or wonder is on the rise. And over 50% of all the adults polled say they pray everyday. They pause and center in conversation with God, everyday. I am in seminary and work in a church so you would think that I would pray a lot. “Pray without ceasing”, right? But if we’re being honest, I don’t stop and pray as regularly as I should or as often as I would like.

So while clergy and theologians across the country are busy dissecting the results of this study, I find myself thinking that it really doesn’t matter. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t tell us anything. I don’t find God to be speaking in or through the data. Those of us who are active in church communities know that attendance is down, as are financial contributions, and the faces in the pew next to us have more wrinkles and whiter hair. And the “nones”, those of us who have been hurt by the Church, who have been told we’re not good enough, or who have asked questions that made the other people in the pew uncomfortable and so we stopped asking questions. Believing that what we yearn for cannot found inside stained glass windows on Sunday mornings.

Phyllis Tickle was a brilliant theologian and writer. She died recently after a lifetime of traveling around the country talking and writing about church, religion, and theology. By the way, if I somehow inspire you to pick up one of her books, read the footnotes, her books have the best footnotes of any writer I’ve ever read, they are hilarious and wicked smart! In her book Emergence Christianity, she talks about the arc of Christianity, beginning with the early Christians, like the Romans in the scripture we read about this morning who were doing a whole new thing, today we might think of them more like church plant, they were rag-tag groups of people who were creating a faith practice as they went along. Paul, one of the original followers of Jesus, would visit and write to them offering advice and perspective, but they were doing a completely new thing. We then move to Constantine, who institutionalized Christian practice, it became a national religion and was given a hierarchy. At that time most people were illiterate and so biblical interpretation was done by a select few educated leaders. But, with the invention of the printing press around 1440, the general population began to learn to read and to have access to the Bible. For the first time in the history of Christianity the general population could read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Which was huge! Phyllis Tickle makes the connection that without the invention of the printing press, Martin Luther would never have posted his thesis on the doors of the church and we would have never had the Protestant reformation, which is considered to be the biggest upheaval Christianity has ever seen. Until now. She thinks that we are in currently in the midst of the greatest shift in Christianity since the reformation because of the invention and accessibility of the internet. The Internet has made information endless accessible and it has changed how a generation builds and engages in relationship. Now this is probably the fastest and most inaccurate Christian history lesson ever, but what I find most important is all of this is that Christianity did not die when Jesus died on the cross, and it didn’t die because of the Reformation, and it isn’t going to die now, no matter what the polls say.

I love the kind of church I grew up with, I love the choir and hymns, I love the liturgy and the four-part harmony, I love church people, casseroles and sherbet punch. But at its worst church has been instrument of exclusion and a rational for violence, both physical and spiritual. I have experienced that church too, I’m sure some of you have also. Sometimes the Church feels fake and superficial. Like when we are arguing whether the red Starbucks coffee cup is a threat Christmas. The church isn’t perfect, and I’m not going to sugar coat the fact that many people have walked out of churches across the country because they have been deeply hurt, or ignored, or silenced. When I am asked “why I stay”, I’m never sure how to respond. I think part of why I have stayed is because of a call to ministry. But I also believe that we can do church better than we have been. I know there is another way to be in community, to be disciples, and to offer grace and love. To be followers of Christ. Jesus set forth an example of another way of life, another way of responding, another way of loving. Jesus is the best example of how to show up in relationship, how to be vulnerable, how to love unconditionally. The future of the church, this church, any church,  isn’t going to look the same as it did when you were a kid or even when I was a kid. But let me be perfectly clear, it is not dying. Church isn’t about a denomination, bylaws or a building. It’s about the mission of God. It isn’t even OUR mission, and it isn’t some program that we do,  it’s God’s mission in the world that we get to be a part of. So what is the future of the church? I don’t know. But I think it will probably be a people who:

Love from the center of who we are and not fake it. I think we will run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. We will be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

We will try not to get burn out; we will seek to keep each other fueled and aflame. We will be alert servants of God, cheerfully expectant. We wont quit in hard times; and we will pray all the harder. We will help those in need and be inventive in hospitality. 

We will bless our enemies and not curse under our breath. We will laugh with our friends when theyre happy and share tears when theyre down. We will strive to get along with each other; and not be stuck-up. We will make friends with nobodies and we will stop trying to be the great somebody.

We wont hit back, we will discover beauty in everyone. If possible, so far as it depends on me, I will live peaceable with all.

                                                                                               – Adapted from The Message

May it be so.

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I’ve been taking photos, but I’ve had trouble getting them on the website because I was so busy with work for a while there. So, instead of stressing about catching up before I can post current photos, I am going to post current photos and catch up as I can. You can always see my daily photo on Instagram #WildGeeseWoolSocks.

Thanks for tagging along this year!

Untitled
Olympia’s Holiday Parade.