Love is the path toward understanding the people…

I told my husband last night that I need a new hobby. All I want to do is talk theology and figure out what is happening in the world. Jake mentioned dancing, and now we are going to sign up for a dance class together because of his amazing suggestion—but after I finish my final semester of seminary, not during. Ha! He then mentioned I could do “Just Dance” right now. I told him I am too tired to do that. I have to have energy for a new hobby, so I went to bed. Good move. I am still tired, but better. Dr. Thema wrote this today: Fatigue is not your enemy. Don’t fight it. Let it call you to breath, to rest, to release. You’ve done enough. You are enough.

I needed those words.

This is probably going to be my last blog post for a while. I have a ton of work to do and my final semester has not even begun yet. I have an online portfolio to complete, need to update my resume, I have a bookkeeping job that needs a lot of catching up on, and I am trying to begin some work on my classes. I like writing, though. These blog posts have helped me figure out what is happening within me, and they have given me an opportunity to offer up things I am learning. As my friend Casey said: I am not responsible or worried so much about who is hearing me, I am trying to be faithful and make sure it is out there so anyone who needs it has access.

Here is what I want to share today:

My friend Teri, who was a pastor professionally (now she is my personal pastor and an amazing Tik Tok pastor—check her out on Tik Tok @transgrams is her handle) for over forty years told me this about my latest sermon:

You were not preaching a sermon trying to win points as a preacher; you were trying to get the audience to understand the people in the story.

This statement is everything to me, because that is exactly what I was trying to do—and I do not even think I knew that is what I was doing. I am doing that because that is what is happening within me, so of course it is coming out externally too. I have noticed that right reasoning and perceived right relationship are not making things better for us a society or as friends. There is something deeper going on. If we do not work to understand what is underneath the chaos that is among us, we are going to continue to be yelling into a void, grow tired, and just give up. Nothing new under the sun. But I have more hope than that. My own healing work is what gives me this hope.

I do not think we need to be on the same page theologically, religiously, politically, etc. to know we have a problem in our society. Giving all the information that supports our stance and/or having an impeccable relationship with someone are not healing our divide in what we view as true. I do not know if you are anything like me, but I want a better understanding of what is happening—beyond just saying this is sin. We use that word too often without thinking any deeper about the person whom we believe to be a sinner. Also, that is putting sin on a person instead of on the system(s) that created this mess (white evangelical church comes to mind). Paul addresses this in Romans. Personal sins he lists as vices—sins of the system were(are) a capital “S” Sin. Not to mention, the church loves to call people sinners for no good reason at all too. It is a dysfunctional relationship with God to believe we are sinners and that is why we need God. I do not come to God with that posture. I come to God to be filled up with love again, and I will get to that in a moment.

I believe the word sin was used in the past because language about mental health and understanding stress in our bodies were not as well known. What we are uncovering now is amazing, and, I think, a better angle presented to us to do the healing work that is required instead of whatever work we are doing currently: scolding, yelling, acting out, going too hard when we need to go softer, etc. It is time to face reality that we have been taught not to value ourselves or our bodies. Our bodies are full of wisdom, and we have been taught not to trust them. This is why the act of self differentiation from a harmful system is so hard—we believe we are sinning, and the people in the system will make you question your own reality, or make your reality seem separate from theirs—so deal with it—and it is excruciatingly painful. The need/desire to belong is a powerful force. I feel this deeply. We are created for connection. This is true.

I am reading this book called Loving Yourself for God’s Sake by Adolfo Quezada. It is so good! Growing up hearing I am a child of God has meant little to me. Those were just words. “Why is that good news?” is a question I have asked a lot when it cannot be felt. My body was not receiving that message. Well, through pain I felt in my body and spirit, I have felt the healing love of God in a palpable way. I became open, through pain, to receive the love of God, and it is because I wanted to live. And in doing so, I have experienced heaven—I still do.

Quezada asks us to surrender to God and let God fill us up with love, because God is love. We did not create love and cannot create love. We have to receive this love or we cannot give this love to ourselves or to others. We have to let go of the need for approval and spend time loving God and ourselves, because God first loved us. This filling up with love will pour out onto others naturally, because we become the love we receive. We cannot give love to others that we ourselves do not have in ourselves to give. That statement right there opened up so much within me. People do not know how to love others, because they do not know how to love themselves or how to receive love from God. It is hard when you feel like a wretched sinner and told you are unworthy of God’s grace. Grace is a gift, yes, but not because we are wretched sinners. God loves us because we are God’s delight. That is the gift. It is not about deserving. Knowing this has grown my compassion when I am not loved by the people I want to be loved by well—I can see they love me in the capacity they have to love. I am also not responsible for their healing work.

I have done the healing work within me. What I struggle with now is not the past, but the present. I feel other people’s pain, and I have to distinguish when the pain is in my body and when it is outside of my body—to discern when it is or is not my burden to bear. I live my life as an invitation to the love I have experienced in God, but I cannot force it on others—nor believe all the things that will be said about me when I fail to show this love in the way I had hoped. There has to be room for failure in community and in friendship. Failure is part of love. Quezada said the goal is not perfection, but growth. I have also been listening to podcasts about what a friend is. A friend will never judge you with the worst intentions. They will understand your shortcomings and guide you back towards growth. They will not mistrust you and believe you are going down a path that is not love. I have to be careful when picking out my friends. I love freely and deeply, and I hurt deeply when the love is not returned the same way. But now I have the love of God so deep inside me, I am not as shook as I once was when I experience people in a different capacity than I thought was happening.

I will end with this quote by Quezada: The gift of yourself is not a gift unless you have owned yourself through love.

The caption should say: The Earth Laughs in Flowers. Leap of Faith Church Sermon, 1-9-2022, “The New Humanity”

This morning’s sunrise. One of the many ways God fills me back up with love.
Love refill when your picture-adverse kid agrees to take a pic with you.
Love refill when your always-picture-ready kid takes a pic with you.
Love when you show your tears and receive encouragement from someone who lets her tears flow freely too. Also Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre said: Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.
Love from your nearest and dearest friend.
Elsa Fills me with love
Nature fills me with love
My church fills me with love. Also, I am the tiny tot on the chancel.
Healthy relationships fill me with love.
Rest fills me with love
Seminary fills me with love! I love these people!

Actually, I am going to pull a pastor no-no and end this sermon again with my own quote: It is hard to take the body of God seriously when we do not take our own bodies seriously. (This was the opener to my sermon).

Friendship is Jesus’ Perspective

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. John 15:15

Jesus’ perspective is friendship. He calls us friends. I think this cannot be understated. My constant cry for friendship is not coming from my own perspective; it is the perspective of Jesus too. If God is calling us friends, then why are we not friends to each other. Are we not the image bearers of God?

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon I am really proud of. I have been listening to the Spirit and she revealed a deep truth to me in a passage I would normally read right over with little thought to the depth of what was happening. I will post it here because I want to talk about my friend Teri, Teri Colleen King. She is one of my nearest and dearest friends in the world. She even called me after listening to this message and shared her sacred tears with me.

Want to know something really wild? This sermon happened exactly two years after Teri had to retire from her church. The Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Teri served faithfully for forty years as a faith leader, but her authentic body was not accepted by the church body. She preached about baptism—Jesus welcomes all who will come. She retired right after that message because she was not welcome as a transgender woman. I did not know this timing when I talked about her at the beginning of my sermon which inspired the message. The Spirit is at work mending what hurts. Teri and I, while both very hurt by the Church, still love and believe in the Church with all our hearts. We believe she can be better.

When we share our stories it is not our perspective, it is part of the family story. A story a friend needs to receive. It is to be integrated with the existing story that has been allowed to flourish. I wish seminary and church would stop using that phrase—“your perspective” —when we are sharing deep and personal stories to help shine a light on something the church needs to address. It causes us to talk past each other and not receive the story of our sibling who needs to be heard, affirmed, and valued. Our experience will also influence how we read scripture; it is supposed to. This is also what Baptists believed at our foundation. Doctrines, creeds, and rituals were always the things being overturned when the time revealed people and creation were being overlooked by a disembodied faith.

The Spirit is calling for integration. Our stories are not separate from each other. If we want to know why people are leaving the church, it is largely because people are not being treated as human. Trying to fix things and compromise when people share their sacred stories is hurtful. People are not known. Beliefs are more important than our neighbor’s pain. Beliefs are more important than truths revealed that contradict the long-held beliefs.

I know changing a story that has given people grounding for a long time is traumatic, even if that story was not good news for them either. I can testify with gymnastics. Seeing USA Gymnastics for what it has been, even though liberating me from the shame I have felt for so long, has not been easy for me—at all. I have made a lot of changes in the last four years because my world has been crumbling all around me; I wanted to find life. Going through the pain is leading me to life and renewal. It works! But I got therapy to help me, and a few good friends who stayed by my side. I still believe in goodness. I believe the Spirit is at work restoring all that is broken. I can hear Julian of Norwich saying: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

When people say church is the loneliest place—I can hear that clearly now. Wisdom is crying out in the streets. Wisdom is borne from our wounds. I saw this quote: The wound is the place where the Light enters you—Rumi. I am not sure why the church ignores the wounds of the broken-hearted. Jesus body was broken. The resurrected body is what we should be aiming for for all the broken bodies among us.

A church without conflict is not an indicator of a healthy church. The Spirit works in the ache. A church willing to dig into the depths of our humanity and have the hard conversations and live the awkwardness is a healthy church. This leads to friendship and integration.

I wrote this on Facebook today and want to document here as well.

Y’all, you know how napping is part of my spiritual practice? When I take a nap at work, that is considered part of my spiritual health—not messing around on the job. Of course I took a nap today since I woke up at 3:30. I have the best office for these nap—and to do yoga (also highly effective in treating my anxiety and trauma. Lots of healing work happening in my office). I am truly grateful for this gift. I am being restored enough to stop trying to control everything. Naps are a part of the receiving part of the journey – our constant giving/producing is about control! I just heard this on a podcast with Glennon Doyle who had Luvvie Ajayi Jones on as a guest. Before I go into that let me tell you something else—

I took a nap earlier this week listening to Glennon’s podcast—both times I woke up at the exact moment I needed to hear a specific message. Receiving rest allows me to hear what I need to hear at the right moment.

Earlier this week Glennon talked about her inner knowing. She always knows what to do. It cannot be about what is right or wrong—that is on someone else’s compass. What her inner knowing is about is knowing what is true for her. This resides in all of us. But we have to receive enough care for ourselves to know what it is. This inner knowing will challenge us and make us uncomfortable, but it is also how we live our most interesting and unique lives. Freedom. That is what radiates into the world. Freedom not as the world defines it—no, this freedom does not harm neighbor or creation. It offers life to all creation.

Today’s message was even more profound. It was about friendship. (You know how I like to call everybody friends? Well, that comes with a lot of responsibility).

  1. When we come to our closest person in free form, we will come with our worst selves at some point, and we will feel guilty. We need to be a disrupter that can receive feedback—within a framework
  2. Part of receiving is listening and apologizing when we go too hard.

But here is the kicker part—it is about friendship:

  1. Deep friendship requires sharing and vulnerability—and room for failure.
  2. We will fail b/c we are going to drop the ball on someone’s feelings, it is inevitable. So, how do we make it safe for them to do it again? (Share again)
  3. When someone shares their story with you, you are being gifted with a sacred gift. So, if you return the story to the person who shared this gift with you and it is unrecognizable to them, that is the loneliest feeling in the world. Even if it is 1% off. It feels like no one knows the person whose story has been dealt with in defensiveness instead of care, and they thought they were living in community.
  4. This is where an apology is so important. It is not about having the argument – that is going to happen- it is how we repair what has been damaged. I am sorry I stepped outside of my integrity and made you feel unseen, unheard, and unaffirmed—even unloved.

I feel like this is a really important message to all of us—and to our respective faith communities. I met someone recently who said this: You can be in a room with people who are so kind to you, but they also do not know you at all.

Luvvie says when she calls someone a friend, she means it. Friendship means we are going to take some responsibility for someone’s care. We are going to have skin in the game for their well-being. So we can’t call everyone a friend.

This is deep.

What becoming Elsa has taught me about becoming Me…

Halloween 2020: This is not a costume. This is a revealing of who I really am. ❄️

My journey towards becoming Elsa is kind of long but also quite humorous and endearing, even though anger is what started this. Let me start from the beginning. I never expected this one interaction I had with a Twitter pastor to turn into this big of an event and actually follow me all through my seminary career. Everyone is playing along with me (church and seminary), and it has been a delightful experience.

The year was 2019 and Ed Stetzer (I am going to name him because I did when I started this whole thing and I want to show that my compassion has grown since this happened) retweeted a 2014 TGC (Total Gospel Coalition – my compassion for them has not grown yet—the TGC is so toxic) blog post that warned parents about letting their daughters see the movie Frozen. The fear was because of the line in the song Let it Go that said: “no right, no wrong, no rules for me…I’m free.” When I read that, and saw that Ed retweeted this because Frozen 2 was going to be released, I was livid. There is nothing these men fear more than a free woman. So, I retweeted and responded that not only will I be watching Frozen with my daughter, Let it Go is now the anthem of my life. ❄️ I was telling the truth, and I had no idea how true it was going to be then.

Here is the thing though, even though I was angry when I started this journey—I have had more fun dressing up as Elsa and letting her speak deep truth within me. This truth possesses me now too. I never would have found this prophet if it were not for these men who are really immature and clinging to power that is being taken away from them by God. They are so scared that even Elsa scares them. This loss of worldly power is good news for them and a means of grace. What has possessed (and is possessing) them is hurting them—Elsa can help. They would not fear her if this was not true.

The road to become Elsa started slowly. I made jokes at the grocery store, because Frozen 2 was everywhere, and put them on Facebook. I bought lunch supplies for myself that were all Frozen themed. It made me laugh so hard. And my dearest friend Wendy Moore bought me a shirt for my first day of seminary.

This is my first day of school pic. August 2019. I was tired and experiencing panic attacks but I did not realize it, yet.
I let everyone know that if you call me snowflake, it is Magical Mint Snowflake to them.

I also sent a note to the pastors who truly had supported me on this journey on the first day of school: George Mason, Jonathan Martin, Dan Bouchelle, and Gordon Dabbs (Dan and Gordon are C of C pastors who have been incredibly for me). Then I thanked Ed Stetzer and the TGC because without them I would not know Elsa. The words from Let it Go gave me the strength I needed to keep going because this journey has been really scary for me. I am scared too. I wrote this line from the song to them: I know I left a life behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve. Well, I did leave a life behind and I was too relieved to grieve for a while, but the grief did come—and it came on strong when school started.

So, my love for Elsa just caught on quickly at school. My friends found it a lot of fun too. The funniest moment was during finals. My friend Ashlee Sweeney had given me an Elsa figure from McDonalds and she sat with me during the exams. Well, in my Spiritual Formation class I thought I had lost her and I yelled out loud: Oh my gosh, where is Elsa?! My Spiritual advisor looked at me weirdly and said: What? It was so funny, and then I filled my class in on my Elsa story. This story just kept growing.

Here are some things my friends have given me that has helped this “freeze” ❄️ grow.

A drawing by Kay Smeal given to me Christmas 2019. I treasure this picture so much.
My book club gave me an Elsa wash rag after I had my first known panic attack. First semester mid-term in Christian Heritage is when I had my first full-blown panic attack. The panic attacks grew in number and I eventually got therapy. I have not had a panic attack since this summer. Progress!
Most recently, Melissa Garza, a friend I met in Greek 1, sent me Elsa’s tiara that she found in the wild (she says 😂) and sent it back to it’s rightful owner.
My friend, Margo, made me an Elsa bracelet. Her creative project from our “Evil, Suffering, and Death” class
We were even having fun on Twitter. Ellysia is a friend I met on Twitter who has even sent me real handwritten letters of encouragement for my journey. She posted this one day on Twitter.

As you can see, this story has not been the angry resistance story that it started out as. What this story has turned into is a story of love, connection, and laughter. Some of us are reading Valarie Kaur’s book See No Stranger, because she is coming to Dallas and the Baptist House of Studies at Perkins is one of the sponsors for her event titled Revolutionary Love. She talks about anger being a necessary emotion for love—you have to go through it to get to the joy. My journey as Elsa has demonstrated this truth.

Since becoming Elsa, I have realized I do have a lot in common with her. In Frozen 1, Elsa learns she has a super power that is dangerous—too much for the world and it must be hidden. This leads to a deep depression for her, and pain for her sister too. She eventually broke and became herself. I was told this lie in church. As a woman, my voice can only lead people to destruction if I were considered a leader. 2016 broke me. I was deeply depressed so I started speaking to live—and I wanted to be heard now! I had to leave home to find the people who were actually interested in what I had to say and wanted to help pave a way for me to use my voice effectively. Like Elsa’s power, it is a power that has to be taken seriously and looked at closely because it can cause harm when not channeled correctly. When done well, this power can keep a snowman (Olaf) alive in summer. Isn’t that beautiful?

Frozen 2, now Elsa’s once-believed dangerous power is now the only hope for the future. Elsa has a deep knowing that a voice is calling her, and she believes that voice is good. She follows that voice into the unknown without specifics, only her deep knowing. She finds the truth about her family and her ancestry. Her sister did not want her to do this because it was dangerous, and it did almost take her out: “Don’t go too far who you’ll be drowned.” But eventually Elsa and Anna, both, save Arendelle and the Northuldra tribe that Arendelle had maliciously hurt by systemic oppression. Elsa found out her grandfather was part of the scheme and had to accept that fact. She also found out that she was part of the magical forest because that was her mom’s ancestry. This is so weird because I am finding out information about our American history and how the Bible was used to oppress indigenous peoples. My husband is from an indigenous family and his grandmother was raised in a Catholic orphanage by design.

It is a lot. But like what we have seen in Frozen 2, the journey was toward healing for everybody—not destruction for anybody. Only systems need to crumble.

I dress up like Elsa because she is my matron saint. She reminds me of the journey I am on and to believe in it. The only part of Let it Go that I stray from is the part where it says “you’ll never see me cry.” Oh, yes, you will. Tears are my super power. It is wild that our church’s theme for Advent this year was “Breaking Dawn.” This also plays to the song Let it Go.

How wild is this? ❄️😇
My pastor, George Mason, tipping his hat to me. This means so much to me. My husband Jake also asked if maybe I seem small because everyone is looking at me from a distance. 😂

This has been such a fun journey, and I will let Elsa keep speaking to me and helping me find my own truth. As Billy Porter says: the only way to save ourselves and the earth is for all of us to become are truest and realest selves. It is hard work. Painful work. There will be anger, tears, and maybe a lot more (panic attacks for me), but then comes the healing. Then comes the joy. Good news is breaking in. We have to go through it to know it is true. We have to learn the real truth, accept it, and heal what hurts.

Elsa has taught me how to play. Play is the antidote to depression. I am forever grateful to my matron saint.

Here are a few pics of this long and continuing journey that brings more hope in the world by the day.

My collection-and this is not all.
Elsa preaching in Perkins Chapel, October 28, 2021. The day before her birthday and the end to her Hildegard year. Also, preaching on Indigenous oppression that happened because of harmful exegesis by men in power (Thomas Jefferson)
Blake’s friends who spent the night were not ashamed of Elsa. They loved this story.
Elsa did VBS this year and was a big hit!
Sending a message to her VBS kids. They taught her more than she taught them that is for sure!
Elsa says: Hell no! Feel those feelings.
4s do not like things boring. Cleaning is fun with Elsa!
Elsa also helps me be entertained when I bake.
Look at this! A message from Hildegard who has also breathed life into me. Look at the future female figure: Ecclesia. You can’t spell Ecclesia without Elsa.
The cold never bothered me anyway. (Okay, the Texas ice storm did).
Elsa did make the Perkins news because of it, though.
Elsa’s dear family
Let it Go. But do not let go of yourself.

2021 Reflections

What a year 2021 has been. We started the year with a Capitol insurrection (and Covid out of control) and are ending with Covid surging again. My disillusionment with life in 2015/16 has not proven to be untrue based on how events have played out since I fell to the floor in despair at that time. Life has continued to throw us many reasons to feel this despair, and many are feeling it and acting out in irrational ways, but the truth is hope is still here in the midst of all of this chaos. I have found this hope despite our current circumstances. I had to work on my own healing to find it. This healing came through the love of a friends who were incredibly for me. This community of friends loved me through the pain, and I got to the other side. This is why I am still a believer in the beloved community despite the heartache is can dish out too. While 2021 has been a difficult year on a massive worldwide and national scale, this is also the year I felt liberation for my spirit. I believe love is here and is with us now. I have experienced it.

I saw a meme that said: When you realize 2022 is 2020 too with a picture of Moira Rose from “Schitt’s Creek” on it. I laughed and screamed “NO!” It is funny, and I am not sure that will not prove to be somewhat true too. Ha! I love humor can still be found in this world that is crying out for healing. We need humor as we do the courageous work of healing and believing the future is going to be better than what is predicted. Helping people to learn how to live with the way things are is the most important work I can think of right now. Teaching our children to face what is hard, not to run from it, will do so much for them and their future. Coddling and pretending like awful things are not happening are exacerbating the problems. We have to face reality as it is, not how we wish it was. Our kids can handle it if we can. Go through the pain that life is not what we had been taught. There is good news in that too.

Our kids can handle it. This has proven to be true in my own family because my kids have watched me fall apart and let go of everything I once believed to be true for a while. They watched me piece myself back together and reclaim what revealed to still be true when everything else fell away. I did not lose my faith, my faith became stronger. They also moved churches with me in 2017, and that was not on their agenda. They were not having a faith crisis; they wanted their friends. But they supported me anyway. Jake too, but this part is about the kids. It has not been an easy road, but it is a road that has led us to deeper conversations, and I love it. I let them think for themselves and ask all the questions they want. My kids have such deep wisdom inside them and I cannot help but feel hope when I hear their perspectives on the world. The kids are okay. Oh, Blake may be lagging in school according to grades, but he is flourishing where it counts—authentic human interaction. This kid is the life of the party and is living his best life now. Kimberlyn is so wise and studying the world around her. She has even told her mom that she will consider allowing her to help her navigate her inner self. She is a 5 and I am a 4 on the enneagram. My wing is 5, so I get a lot of what she is doing and how she is processing the world. It is helpful that Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach are married. Their podcast has given us lots of tools for reflection and laughter. Glennon is a 4 like me, Abby a soccer player like Kimbo. Glennon said she is an internal tour guide. She can take you scuba diving without any water. That is an accurate description of what I can do. This is how I convinced Kimberlyn I can help. Life is not perfect, but I love how deep it is now.

Jake had an amazing soccer year despite all the complications Covid brought to even having a season at all. Sachse High School Boys Soccer team made it to the 4th round of the playoffs in Texas! That is the top 16 in the state, and they were ranked nationally. This is not a new feat for Sachse but what made this one unique is how unexpected it was. Their star player was out of the country training in Spain hoping to get picked up by a professional club (he is getting really close and we are so proud). Without him, everyone was sure they were done for as far as winning district and doing much in the playoffs. But that proved to be untrue. One of Jake’s players who had just learned English said this: Why can’t we dream? Dreams are free. “Dreams are free” became their motto and inspired the amazing run they had this year. What is so special is they relied on every single player to make it. I get tears in my eyes every time I write this. I want life to work this way, but without the competition part. We are all making it because every single one of us is doing our part. And when we can’t, for whatever reason, the team picks up where we are lagging or unavailable for a cool reason – like trying to make a professional team- and takes it from there.

The world of Christianity still leaves me sad. But I am also unrelentingly hopeful for it because for whatever reason I am still here. I want so desperately to live the world I know it can be, but it is difficult. I am ending this amazing year a little hurt and trying not worry about what comes after May. I have heard the worst opinions of me spoken out loud and I am trying to recover from that. I know my passion can get in the way of clarity and I have taken responsibility for that. I have also learned that world of Christianity is way too competitive. Learning to dialogue in good faith is the task at hand. Christianity has been too performance-based, like sports, and it hurts relationships in the same way I saw in soccer. Both worlds can do better and be their distinctive selves in the worlds they each reside in, soccer and Christianity.

I watched “I Am Woman” the other night. It is a story about Helen Reddy. It was such a powerful film and sent me much-needed healing words. It is tough going against misogyny that still ever-present everywhere. I am growing and it is awkward. I am doing things I never thought possible for me and growing in confidence. I am saying what I need and desire and sometimes that works and sometimes it does not.

These words from “I Am Woman” have sparked the flame in me again:

I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land
But I’m still an embryo
With a long long way to go
Until I make my brother understandOh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to I can face anything

Here are some highlights of 2021:

Why the Duggar case matters…beyond our outrage

I know I said I was not going to write anything once school was out, but this case is too important to ignore. In this post I am going to include Rachael Denhollender’s assessment of the verdict. She gets to the heart of the real problem and why abuse survivors are retraumatized in cases like this. They see people who should be on their side, not. We as a culture have more empathy for the abuser because our systems are designed to protect abusers. They are the ones we know and they have been good too. I get the agony. I have worked in a system where a beloved person was exposed as a predator. The pain and consequence of it affects everybody.

If you do not already know the back story of Josh Duggar. Here is a link to catch you up.

When 19 Kids and Counting came out on television, I will admit I was surprised by the popularity. I guess I should not have been since several shows were out about big families that were also quite popular. The Duggars, though, they amplified a cultural American Christianity that got people excited. I was immediately suspicious of it. It is not because I know more than people, I am just paying attention. My intuition said something is wrong here, and I also did that with Duck Dynasty; I have not been wrong. The authoritarianism that was present in these shows was immediately obvious to me. The Duggars deny they were associated with the Quiverfull religion; they actually claim ‘Independent Baptist.’ Both are exclusive and extremely conservative, but the Quiverfull religion is even more extreme because children are used to promote an agenda. They deny they were doing that.

With that said, these popular Christian shows have been patriarchal and controlling. And the public has liked it. It is no wonder why we are where we are right now in our religious and public life. We are now seeing the ugliness play out that cannot be denied anymore by these extreme religious sects. What we as a culture are not doing enough is looking below the surface about why this happens. Patriarchy in all forms is evil. It robs vulnerable people of protection and it creates apathy in people that would not be there without the system that makes them feel special and superior. Male over female; parent over child—all hierarchies that puts the authority of a person over another. There is always going to be some level of hierarchy in systems, but we can do way better to bring it down a lot. We need to be aware that in all systems right now everywhere: The person with the least power gets erased when the trauma comes, and it will.

The Duggars had a name when Josh’s problems started to reveal themselves publicly. He abused four of his sisters when he was 14 and 15 years old. Very little work was done to address this and the sisters suffered more. Now the problem has grown out of hand and so many more people have suffered. Holding people accountable is not destroying them. Not holding them accountable is!!! This is a case in point.

Now I am going to share Rachael Denhollendar’s assessment of this situation and how victims are now re-traumatized, even with a guilty verdict. It is not just because they are reliving trauma, but because people who should love them and be by their side are not. It is no wonder God goes to the person who is not believed—or maybe believed but ultimately not cared about because their humanity was deemed less than. Rachel Denhollendar is an advocate, author, attorney and speaker. She was sexually abused by Larry Nassar as a teen and spent years researching what happened to her. She has since exposed and brought Nassar to account through USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. She has also been working with the SBC sex abuse scandals, and now this. This is a lot and I hope we are holding space for the amount of trauma Rachael holds in her body.

Yay, It’s You.

Y’all, this quote “Yay, it’s you” was said to me at our Baptist House of Studies “Texas Baptist Women in Ministry Day” at Perkins in October. It was Ashley Robinson, Wilshire pastoral resident and wonderful friend, who said this to me. She said it when she found out I was the mystery person whose stuff was at the table she was sitting at for our luncheon. This encouragement reminded me of Mr. Rogers when he said on his show: I like you just the way you are. I believed him. These are words that breathe life into weary souls. Also, every time I see Ashley, my heart screams: Yay, it’s you. 💕

I do not know about you, but I am tired. Tired of feeling like I have to keep doing more (a lot of this feeling is self-imposed, but it is our culture too—both/and) to feel like I am proving myself enough. Why am I not trusting that I am wholly and completely loved as I am, where I am? There are reasons, but the reasons are way bigger than my personal location.

When I started realizing that I actually like myself, I felt weird about it. Saying I felt like I did something good without making a self-deprecating joke first felt unnatural. I asked my therapist if I was becoming a narcissist. She opened her book on narcissism and read the definition of a narcissist to me. No worries there. We do live in a narcissistic culture, though. This phenomenon is not because people like themselves too much. It is just the opposite. They do not know they are loved just the way they are. Our culture of intense competition with little to no empathy for the ones not winning, it is no wonder we have created a culture of narcissists.

Our Christian faith is really competitive. There are lots of reasons for this and I do not feel like writing them, but I do want to say this: you cannot over-encourage someone. You can over-praise, though. These are not the same thing. Most of us are living in a world where encouragement is lacking and what needs to be improved abounds everywhere. What needs to be e improved is not unknown. What is going well is not always clear.

In the United States, it is clear we need to improve basically everything. Not one institution is untouched by serious oversight on important issues and abuse of people. Everything seems to be on trial, and democracy and human decency seem to be losing. But other things are happening. I see people waking up and learning to love themselves. They are seeing the pain of the world and wanting to know why these things are happening. They are not giving up; they are getting in the ring.

Things are not okay right now. I was just reading Jonathan Martin’s post, who has been fighting fiercely for years for the life of Julius Jones who has been unjustly accused and sentenced to death in Oklahoma, reminding me why I am living my life they way I am. Please check out Julius Jones’ story to get the full background. But know this: Governor Stitt, Oklahoma’s governor, acted in the most cruel way waiting to weigh in on Julius’s commutation until hours before his execution. His family, and Julius, had to go through “last things” because of this intentional delay. Our political leaders and faith leaders who are acting this way are breaking the heart of our nation—and so many of us are raising our voice and saying: Enough!!!! Jonathan’s quote here: this movement has always been grounded in the power of those the world calls common, not celebrity. Then he went on to uplift Cece Jones Davis, without whom Julius Jones would probably not be here still today, even though we still await getting him home. She had to pester and look like John the Baptist in a way that made sense to few but it sustained life when death was seeking to win.

We have to learn to listen to our life and believe when we are called. It is hard and we will not be perfect. I am so far from perfect and I have really hurt some people in trying to fulfill this call. It is agony. But I am learning to lean into my belovedness anyway. My voice is speaking from deep pain and there can be room for mistakes. None of us know how to do things right. I am not even really asking that question anymore. How can we do things more faithfully is what I am asking. Then we keep adjusting over and over as we continue to meet unmet needs as we go. It is not about perfection but faithfulness (listening).

These lyrics from Tish Melton, Glennon Doyle’s daughter from “We Can Do Hard Things”:

Because I’m mine, I walk the line. Cause we’re adventurers and heartbreak’s our map. We might get lost, but we’re okay with that
We stopped asking directions
To places they’ve never been
And to be loved, we need to be known
We’ll finally find our way back home
And through the joy and pain, that our lives bring
We can do hard things

What is the role of women wailers? Advent Day 5: Searching for hope

Madeleine L’Engle said in one of her biographies that she wrote every day. People would ask her how she could be inspired to write every day. She said that she was not. She wrote to get inspired. If we wait to be inspired to write then very little writing will happen.

That is how these blog posts have felt for me since Advent started. There is something stirring in me and I cannot quite put my finger on what it is. This sense of there is something missing. I think it is the sense of playfulness. The world is so hard and I want to speak hope into the chaos, but I think I need a word of hope breathed into me again.

Yesterday I saw this comment by Amanda Held Opelt (RHE’s dear sister). She was responding to a great question Kaitlyn Scheiss was asking about biblical egalitarianism. I love Amanda’s response:

Maybe nothing is wrong with me. Maybe this is my role. The depression is not inside me, it is all around me. I heard a trauma therapist say that people who have experienced spiritual trauma need to be aware of when it is outside of their body or within. I think it is outside of my body right now. This culture we are living in all around us – I OBJECT!

I know everybody is suffering, and I am sensitive to that. I deeply care for everybody I meet and want you to know you are deeply loved. I hear your pain and your joy, and I feel both grief and delight with you. But right now I do not think it can be understated how unloved women are in our society and in our faith communities. Oh, many may say “we love women” and will believe women on a surface level (like quick fixes will take care of the years of generational trauma) but the narrative that has demeaned their worth has gone on so long, the hatred of women is internalized—it is not realized. Women’s cries are met with disdain because the pain is not felt or known, especially for women who are seemingly finding their way out but the institutions we all participate in are so patriarchal. Patriarchy is the air we unintentionally breathe, and that breath comes out in words more than most realize every day. We are so numb to it and women’s cries are seen as egotistical instead of a deep anguish that Amanda gave much needed words to. What was the role of the women wailers? I would have never thought to ask that question.

Women were wailing at the cross of Jesus and have been forgotten. We have told the story that Jesus was abandoned. No, he was not.

It is a traumatic time. We are all experiencing trauma. The world as we once knew it is gone. It is not coming back, but a new world is breaking in. We can let go of what was and embrace what is coming. I can see it. I want so badly to speak it and shout it everywhere I go.

Blanco River, Wimberley, Texas

Searching for Hope Advent Day 4

I have been waiting for the right words to express the grief I feel that so many voices are getting undeserved or unfair platforming over other more-inclusive voices who are sharing a similar message but not stopping at their one thing they are fighting for. As my professor of New Testament, Dr. Abe Smith, said so profoundly: When you begin to fight for justice, expand your vocabulary. He talked about a time when he was giving a sermon addressing racism and inadvertently used an example that was ableist and hurt someone. I know it is hard to keep up with all the things we are raising awareness on, it takes humility to listen and continue to grow and adjust. Personally, I love my growing vocabulary. Trying to rethink how I frame things helps me learn to tame my tongue as St. James has wisely told us to do.

What is even more frustrating is even Progressives who have the platform to help, tend to keep uplifting the voices of those who are less inclusive over the people around them who are not sharing that message. Complementarian voices, even from women, are more popular. There are some who say they are egalitarian but are also not willing to talk more openly about abortion or reconsider their views on the LGBTQIA+ community. It really has to include all of it. This is not fundamentalism but expanding our vocabulary so that we do not gain our freedom off the backs of others who are beat down.

One of my friends and I discussed our first semester of seminary about how unfortunate it is that Beth Moore is treated the way she is in her camp. It does need to be addressed and brought to light, but we also need to state that she has a lot of power and her platform has caused a lot of harm too. And there have been women who never shared her message but also never got her platform to be a voice that could have been a counter-voice to some of the toxic messages Beth helped spread. There are women speaking up saying they stayed in abusive relationships because of Beth Moore’s teaching. I am not trying to pit women against each other, patriarchy is absolutely the root cause of this, but this is a Sarah (Abraham and Sarah) situation where some women have more social capital, even though still oppressed. Not taking away Beth Moore’s abuse and how important it is to talk about. It matters. Sarah was also horribly abused by Abraham, and I wish all faiths (Abrahamic faiths) would address that more. This is what women who are not white have been yelling at white women—you are still under the authority of patriarchy! It is not going to save you either. They are right. I had to learn the hard way too. Changing my mind has led me to life, not shame and guilt because I once thought differently. We are all victims to what we have been taught—hard to get around that—but we can break free and change our minds and be cycle breakers.

I am fiercely fighting for women and all who have been excluded. One issue has allowed our subordination to continue without critical thought and I will address that in the next section. What I want to say before I go into it is this: Intentions are rarely the problem. I believe most people have good intentions when making a statement about what I am going to talk about. What is harmful is the closed mind that refuses factual data and the lived-experiences of people who have made these choices. The closed mind is the problem. Somewhere along the line we need intentions and awareness to meet.

The last thing I want to do is hold all faith leaders to account for the spiritual malpractice they have allowed to fester for way too long in toxic public discourse: abortion. It is time for faith leaders to become knowledgeable on this subject in deeper ways than it is just a woman’s choice.

Firstly, understand this is a violation of religious freedom. Evangelical Christians do not own the narrative on when life begins. That is not certain and it is certainly fine to have differences of opinion on that, but it is not okay to disagree on what the actual facts are. Also, humility for other religions who see it differently. As I like to say, we are saved by our diversity. I am grateful I am not relying on Christians on this subject.

Secondly, Making abortions illegal verifiably increases abortions. Increasing the USA’s already high incarceration rate is never pro-life. It will also affect poor black and brown lives more than wealthy people. Wealthy people will still get their abortions. That is a fact. As religious people, we are on the side of the oppressed, so this debate is in violation of the people are charged to protect.

Thirdly, if you care about abortion, check into the pregnancy centers that are trying to take out Planned Parenthood. They offer no education or resources to help prevent unwanted pregnancies. Planned Parenthood does that. Also, they cannot provide medical care for women who are in need. Planned Parenthood can. There might also be trauma therapists available at Planned Parenthood that pregnancy centers do not have for women who have been raped.

Fourthly, Give a shit about DOMESTIC violence. Violence against women is the biggest human rights violation around the world. We are so used to the abuse of women it barely hits our radar that the abortion debate might be harming women in ways one has no comprehension on—because of not taking the time to know what is actually going on with abortions.

Fifthly, Care about income equality. The gender wage gap is a sin. Poverty is racist and sexist and is an orphan maker.

I can keep going. I hope I am making a point that this subject deserves more critical investigation. I am tired of faith leaders acting like they are the victims when they make a poor argument about being pro-life and feeling excluded from the feminist movement because of it. While I do not condone some of the responses they receive, I actually denounce that, it is time for them to take responsibility for constantly throwing the same argument out there and surprised the response continues to be what it is.

Also, know that abortion is also the issue that fuels complementarian theology. It makes people feel like they do not actually have to address racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on because this one issue has them covered.

Not anymore.

Empower women or do not engage this conversation.

Searching for Hope – Advent Day 1

2016 is the first time I observed Advent. It is also the year I first observed Lent. Something had broken inside me that was also clearly broken in the world; I was done. Prayer and observing the church calendar were the only things I knew to do to try and connect more deeply with my faith so I could keep going. Pastors on Twitter were a big help to guide me on this liturgical journey that was not available to me previously. I am also forever grateful for Diana Butler Bass’s article about Advent that came out this year -2016- too:

Diana’s article helped me feel less alone, and it captured feelings that were sorely missing in the world I was living. How could all of these awful things be happening and people not feel it? Why are people not acting shocked by the behavior of our politicians and those around us who are saying things they would not have said a few months ago, at this point? Why am I being unfriended and blocked when I am taking a stand against a sexual predator who was also unapologetically racist? None of this made sense.

Yes, I feel like what Diana Butler Bass describes in this article even in 2021–I need the blue candles, please. We need a symbol reminding us that Advent is something deeper—waiting, listening, preparing—for God. And a lot of times, it is a time we actually do feel blue. In the book The Spirit of Adoption by my professor, Dr. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, she reminds us that God does not speak to us in the barren spaces only; we hear God more clearly in the barren spaces. This is true, and scriptures testifies to this.

I will be blatantly honest, I am tired of singing songs about kingdoms and talking about a male savior who is going to save us all one day. There has to be something better than that to hope for, and in. Where is the language for women who have also pursued the hard work of salvation? The women who are still doing the hard work and have stayed in a faith that has dehumanized them and sought to silence them? This is still happening today.

In this moment, Mother Mary comes to me.

Mary said yes to God—who asked for her permission and we rarely emphasize that—in a time when all hope seemed lost. She did not say yes because she saw any sign things were getting better at that moment when she said yes. She had prepared herself to hear the voice of God who cared about her. God trusted Godself to a woman to enter this world. A woman who had to be broken and poured out for him (in this instance I will say him because we are talking about Jesus) in order for Jesus to enter this world. Where God and humans work together for a better world. God became finite, and being male is part of God’s finite status, to be with us. Not because we are wretched, but because we are God’s delight. All of creation is. I love speaking of the universe as God’s body.

Something I learned from Rob Bell when I was down-and-out waiting for the light to break in: when we are creating something deeper, the number of views will be lower. The people in our lives might not be sharing our work because it is not going to get the same number of clicks and likes as the old familiar story will. He said this as if he was talking directly to me: Remember you are doing something deeper. It takes time to change a narrative and for people to hear it—even if the change in narrative is what has been true all along. Some people have been sharing that story for a long time and still receive no attention for it. We get used to the chaos and are uncomfortable when people break free from it . Trying to raise our voices in the world of faith as women is really hard. If it is not by patriarchy’s rules, women will be silenced—even if unintentionally. I see that now.

I have to remind myself that Jesus was not about protecting his image. If he was about image he would not have gone to the woman (who has a name but was silenced by the author) at the well, who had a bad reputation for numerous reasons, and had the longest conversation recorded in any of the gospels with HER (John 4)! He freed her by letting her know that how she viewed herself, and how society viewed her, is not how God views her. He would not have engaged the man in the Tombs who needed help and driven the demons out of him if he was worried about his image (Mark 5). The man, who also has a name, dwelling in the tomb’s community was more comfortable when he was not in his right mind because it was better for the economy that way, and they drove Jesus away. But so many more people came to know the power of God because Jesus engaged these two people. You can see that when you read stories that follow that reveal more and more people are finding out about Jesus. Jesus was not looking for crowds but for people who needed and wanted healing. That made the difference.

I think about the number of times I have preached-twice in person, that is it. I have not preached in front of a large crowd, but the crowd I have spoken to was ready for what was shared. That feels holy to me. There is something deeper happening and it may not be the story people (including me) are looking for. The stone that the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22, Mark 12:10-11). I have to keep reminding myself of this. Advent is a great time to remember, listen, prepare, and give our prophetic yes to God. Mary is an example to remember in this season. We are waiting for Jesus because Mary said yes.

There is more to say and the words will come when the time is right. I wait in hope.

Why I believe the church would do well to listen to (not resist) our “Spiritual but not Religious” cousins

For this post, I am speaking from a Christian perspective, but this is certainly not limited to Christians.

The phrase “spiritual but not religious” has been a popular movement most of my life. I never really took to heart what it meant exactly prior to 2015, but I did understand religion could be oppressive. It seemed to me that people were claiming Jesus but not the institution of the Church. While that can be true, I am learning it is far deeper than that simple explanation. Interpreting what people believe without talking to them diminishes the truth of their story and what is actually happening. It also left me without some needed truth that could have helped me be more informed as a Christian who still believed in the institution of the Church. I still do, but we have a long way to go in growing our spiritual maturity. This statement is not just aimed at complementarian churches either.

Churches in the West have done a great job of spiritually forming people through their minds, but it has fallen way short on spiritually forming people through their bodies where feelings reside. Without spiritually forming by learning to quiet the mind and to be present in the moment as it is, we have in effect taught people that the here and now does not matter and bodies do not matter. We can think whatever we want, but we cannot feel whatever we want. How one feels about what is being taught does not matter, feelings cannot be trusted after all, what matters is that the teaching is accepted and obeyed. This also plays out in public life. Take a courtroom for example. You will hear lawyers say to not use your emotions when deciding a case, but they can manipulate the story through the intellect creating reasonable doubt. There is such thing as intellectual manipulation, not just emotional manipulation. The disconnect from our emotions hurts us everywhere, not just in our faith communities. Emotions are sources of information too.

In our church culture, the experience of an individual is not valued because that is too emotional and makes the story less certain if one’s experience changes how we can interpret scripture. We are more scared of scripture being called into question than a person. This is one major crisis of the church right now, and the church is slow to respond because the church at large does not know how to feel. It is easier to say a few bad apples than question the whole tree that keeps producing bad apples. See also Mark 11 and Matthew 21. For women, this has caused so much unnecessary harm to our bodies and minds. We do not matter in scripture, and we do not matter in public or church life today. This is everyone. We are all responsible.

This became apparent to me when Donald Trump was elected. A church that once acted like it cared about all people, at least in word, now revealed to me that was not true. To listen to a man brag about sexually abusing women and unapologetically talking over a woman in their Presidential debates with no consequence and few in my own Christian world even noticing it as a problem, is a moment in my life I will never forget. It is when my world as I once knew it was over. This is when “spiritual but not religious” became more relevant to me. I was not sure I could attend church again after witnessing this. At this moment, I would have rathered my kids not believe in God than believe in the god I was seeing in our public life. Had it not been for spiritual practices: yoga, meditation, and a whole lot of listening, I might not have made it to the other side and gotten back into religion.

I am back but not in the same way; there is no going back to the way it was. I had to be spiritually nourished back to life to do this. Church did not offer these spiritual resources because it was still holding onto a story I no longer held anymore. I am not sure if I was saying yes to God in my anger or if it was just me saying “I WANT TO LIVE, PLEASE HELP ME” and the universe heard me and responded. I believe it is God, personally. This is when the resources and teachers came to me so I could heal and get back up. And when I got back up, I was not afraid to face all of the sins, including my own complicity, that led us to this moment. When your whole world has shaken and you choose life, very few things are as scary as they once were. The only thing I fear is not being able to speak the truth.

In the beginning, it was weird to me that people were worried about what their kids learn in school that could help heal wounds–racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQIA+–but were at the same time unconcerned about their children watching Donald Trump treat a woman so crudely (this word is not strong enough because there is not a word strong enough for this) on national television during their debates. I was/am so pissed. I realize now that when anyone is excluded from the table where decisions are made, their life simply does not matter in the way it should. Apathy towards that person happens because their experience is different from the ones who are making all the decisions and are unaffected by the repercussions of exclusion. But I know now how spiritually malnourished the decision-makers are. So much has been placed on them to be the savior and they are not. And to lose that status feels like canceling them instead of decentering them. It actually is good news for them too, but they have to feel the pain to get to the other side. Right now not feeling and confessing what hurts is spiritually destroying them.

I say all of this because I realize now how badly we need more spiritual formation in our faith communities–and public life too. In public life, this would look like more social uplift and less criminalization and militarization. One vital way we can help ourselves is in our faith communities is to improve our theology on how good creation is. We need to change our language about God too. Our language about God is so patriarchal that when we keep focusing on God instead of women in the stories who are experiencing God, we are in actuality focusing on the man’s experience still. Like always! Also, I do not think God needs to be centered over the humans who are having a complicated human experience. “God with us” means with us, not over us. Sally McFague, an American feminist theologian, says it is within the scope of scripture to use lots of other metaphors for God, for instance, Mother, Lover, Friend. She also applied this approach when talking about ecological issues. She talked about the earth as if it were God’s body. Everything on earth with equal importance.

Because of spiritual abuse, lots of people are leaving the Christian faith. I believe spiritual abuse is prevalent for lots of reasons, but one is the church is lacking spiritual formation that encompasses the whole body. The church’s lack of care for the human experience even though we believe in the incarnation of God and women’s testimony is the reason we believe this, reveals this is not how our faith is designed to function. This is why I am staying. I have also been formed by these stories too, so the ones interpreting it at the expense of women and all of creation do not get to own the narrative. I know that my changing the approach to how scripture is presented is going to be a challenge. Changing the way the story that has been told for way too long is disorienting. I know this from my own experience. I can relate and have empathy. But this is a challenge I believe in and want to take on–if the space is made for me to be able to do it. I am following the Spirit and believing this can be turned around. I am believing because Mary believed too (Luke 1:45). Mary is the yes all of creation has been groaning for. (John 1:11; Romans 8:22)