Coming Out of Good Earth

Today is National Coming Out Day.

I.

One may wonder why LGBTQ people have to “come out” in the first place—well, think of it as a kind of proclamation. There is something different about us that is good and holy in its own right and it is not up to the norms of the prevailing society to give us intrinsic value. That value is inestimably and ineffably given to each of us at the moment of our entrance into this life by the One who calls us out of the dust of the earth and names us.

To come out is to name that we too, with our different ways of loving and walking and seeing in this world, are of good earth. We give voice to the fire in our bones and name the goodness of creation. We claim our blessing: “out of good earth were we made, and good we are.”

II.

For those who would accuse us of celebrating and identifying with “sinfulness,” perhaps studied consideration of what “sin” actually is would be a worthwhile endeavor—so often we call “sin” that which doesn’t jive with our societal norms. Pepperoni pizza remains an abomination, after all.

Yet I’ve grown completely tired of engaging in any conversations around the so-called “clobber passages;” any number of qualified scholarly luminaries have shown time and again that these passages do not provide the right to exclude and “reprove in the Lord” that many so desperately want. I won’t countenance this particular conversation because it’s so boring. Instead I have decided to take the posture of demanding of people the reasons they would seek to exclude and eliminate with the same vigor with which I have been asked to defend my own existence and my own insistence in being part of my faith tradition.

My existence, my belovedness-in-God, my walking in the Jesus pilgrimage is not up for discussion. Nor are my inalienable rights to life, liberty, and equality. Nor are the inalienable rights of those who, for accident of birth into different race or class or nation or way-of-being, have had their rights called into question. My freedom as a gay man is bound up in my black neighbor’s freedom, in my woman neighbor’s freedom, in my immigrant neighbor’s freedom, in my white cis-het neighbor’s freedom (from the fetters of privilege and prejudice!). Until we are all free, none of us is—for we are all made of the same Good Earth by a Good Maker.

III.

To come out is not cheap for many, if not all of us. While I am grateful for the privilege I enjoy of having a supportive family, a network of ride-or-die friends, and connections to faith communities that understand the mystery of the Good Earth, those came part and parcel of walking through a journey of loss. Others are not so fortunate and have either lost everything, including their lives, or are forced into silence and shame by the ungrounded fear that others have of them.

And so today my heart is with those who cannot name the goodness of the soil from which God called them for fear of silencing, rejection, loss of social and financial support, and the very present threat of psycho-spiritual and physical violence; moreover my heart is with those who have come out at great cost to their security and safety. May we all be so brave and so willing to let go of those things that tether us in order to show forth God’s handiwork.

A postscript.

To my ally friends: thank you. Know well that today is -not- the day to come out as an ally. If you must act, do so tacitly by lifting up the stories of LGBTQ people and succoring those for whom coming out has come at great cost.

Real Food

It is Lent, and we draw closer to the cross.

I’m something of a rebel at heart—not because I seek to overthrow anything, but because at the core of my heart’s understanding of the way this world has turned out, it is already overthrown. There is something grossly amiss with the world, and I think it only appropriate that those who call themselves servants of a breathing, dying, rising God adopt a perspective of rebellion against the rule of death, not by denying it wholesale, covering it over in the platitudes of Mickey Mouse religion, or worse, constructing a simulated reality out of the duck-faced, over-filtered, symbols that float through Western society divorced from meaning.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently with Andrew Root’s book The Promise of Despair, the essential premise of which is that the darkness of death against which we rail is the very context in which we see the ultimate reality of what holds the universe together, the Crucified God, the One whose heart bleeds and dies over a world in thrall to death. The One whose death swallows up death forever.

One of my understandings of the sacrament of the Eucharist is that it is an affirmation of and participation in the overthrowal of the world by the death of Christ, the final defeat of the darkness that persists in those dark corners of the world. I harp on this at length but it is something worth harping upon because in the Eucharist we taste the crucified, dead God and welcome him into our bodies to raise us with him. The taste of dry bread and tawny port is the taste of death that’s been turned inside out–it’s a flavor that cries, “life!”

There is nothing more real than the Eucharistic meal, as far as I understand it. By that I mean there is nothing so closely connected with the founding and final order of things as a perfect love poured out into the most basic of human functions–breathing, eating, and drinking. But as basic as those functions are, there is something else that makes the Eucharist real: it acknowledges despair, that force which bakes and breaks us, presses and pours us. The liturgy of the Eucharist encompasses the whole of human experience.

Could it be that in consuming the bread and wine we become more real because of our participation in these symbols? I think so–and what a reality it is, a reality that is more real than the death-bent world around us, a reality in which victims and oppressors are reconciled to God and thereby to one another.

But there’s something to be said for the desire to continue living in deathly fantasy. As much as I know my reality, my destiny, is to be bound up and reconciled in the body of Christ to my wrongdoers and the ones whom I have wronged, there is yet a desire to allow the wall of hostility to linger just a little longer. That deathly pull makes me say, “no, I don’t want to dine with those people.”

If I am to accept the reality of my belovedness, I must accept that I will ultimately have to be reconciled to the people who pulled their World Vision sponsorships because of people like me. I will have to be reconciled to the single-issue voters and toxic pundits that continue to see folks like me as a blight on society, unworthy of the name “beloved.” I don’t want to embrace those people right now. I want to shield my heart from being ground further into a pulp, and so I resist reconciliation. In those moments I want the specter of death to keep me apart from those people.

Holding on to deathly fantasies may give me some sense of protection now, but as with everything, that protection is false; it too is burned away by the warmth of Real Food, along with everything else that Love destroys in the process of saving us from falsehood. But the good news is that our wounded memories will, in the presence of reality-shaping love, become a source for a wildly hopeful future in which my heart will be changed–and their hearts, too–so that at long last I can embrace my estranged brothers and sisters as Esau did Jacob.

And out of that wild fountain of hope comes this, a hope down in my bones: when at the last Death and Hell are swallowed up, hatred and bigotry will go with them, and we will finally live.

The Man God Loves

[Warning: Pulp Fiction language ahead! Also I know the title of this is “The Man God Loves” and I use that as this is a personal reflection from a cis-male perspective and it’s also a play on a song title. I don’t mean anything more than that.]

As I’m writing this Ella Fitzgerald’s performance of “The Man I Love” is playing on Spotify. In a bizarre way I somehow feel as though the lyrics could just as easily speak of “the God I Love,” especially the line I’ll do my best to make him stay.

I have trouble trusting God. I have trouble trusting in God’s goodness and his welcome, especially in a world that continues to be peppered with personages and prophets who pander to pedantic impieties and utilize the message of God to denigrate the humanity and realness of others.

I know that those people do not speak for God, and that my heart and life have already been spoken for by the God who suffers rejection and death for the sake of welcoming all into that God’s own divine demesne.

But sometimes the voices of those who cry “no!” to God’s children are louder than the dying voice of the God who cries “no!” to the pattern of suffering and death. The lie weasels into my thought processes: have I done something to drive God away? Am I still worthy of grace, despite all my darkness? And so I find myself doubting God, as though I cannot be found behind the nagging shadow of my own imagined unworthiness, listening for God’s dying whisper of tetelestai, listening for the rustle of linen in the resurrection tomb, listening for the footsteps of the myrrh bearers, and hoping that I too will find myself eating fish on the beach with the God I love. The voice inside me nags, “maybe I haven’t done my best to make him stay.”

I wonder if God ever sings “I’ll do my best to make him stay.” The reality is that God hasn’t gone anywhere; the issue at work here is my own human forgetfulness. This is why the Sacraments are so utterly important–we remember our baptism, we remember our participation in the death and resurrection, we remember the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we remember our forgiveness from sin, and we’re even set apart to help the world remember its belovedness in the other sacraments. The great grace is that I am spoken for whether or not I can hear the echoes of those realities in my mind’s ear. There’s nothing I can do to make God stay because God has never left, and will never leave. And the grace upon grace is that I can taste the realness of love in bread and wine, feel the embrace of the loving God in the arms of those whom I know love me, in their words, in their smiles and acts of service.

Even though the glow of those holy moments in which I knew God’s presence has faded, the grace of God is such that I can still see the glow of God’s presence in those people who bear God’s image. The light of God in these acts, in these glances, strikes me like purging flame, burning away the grime over my eyes and welcoming me once again into the light of God’s countenance.

And I am an image bearer of God, and what more, the final word has been spoken regarding me: beloved. And I’m willing to wager on a God whose arms are stretched far enough to embrace a world that has forgotten the God it loves. We are the world God loves, even though we’re probably going to screw it up on the way to making that love a reality for all people.

But praise be to a God who can’t get enough of us darling, forgetful fuck-ups, who joins us in the pit of despair and transforms that place of destruction into a fountain life and light and uncomfortable grace that demands we do something with it. And what’s even crazier is that God actually trusts us to bring the world back to life with him. A God who never leaves, and who does God’s damnedest to help us remember.

Guest Post: It’s Not Just, “I’m Beautiful”

Hey darlings! Today’s post is a guest post by one of my favorite people: Sarah. I had the good fortune to cross paths with Sarah and Lindsey on several different occasions in the great churning ether that is the Internet; first on Gay Christian Network, then via our mutual friend Heidi Weaver, who is the boss lady of LOVEboldly. Sarah and Lindsey and I finally met in person a couple of weeks ago over overpriced chocolates and vodka cranberries near Metro Center in downtown DC, and in person they exude every bit of grace and dignity that comes across in their writing. Sarah and Lindsey have a unique and beautiful calling as an LGBT couple who are living out their mutual calling of celibacy in a committed and covenanted relationship, which has drawn both praise and ire from all angles of the LGBT-Christian conversation–nevertheless, these two have borne the joys and challenges of accepting their callings with grace I only hope to emulate. Sarah and Lindsey blog about their story at A Queer Calling. Today’s post is by Sarah.

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I always begin the Christology lecture in my freshman Intro to Theology course by performing a brief Google Images search for the term, “Jesus.” I do this as a means of segue into discussing how diverse our own mental images of Christ can be. You can probably imagine the variety of pictures my students see projected from the classroom desktop. We find traditional depictions of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Sacred Heart, and the Pantocrator icon interspersed with modern depictions of Jesus laughing, playing soccer with children, or welcoming souls into heaven—and there are always a few irreverent images too (a smoking Jesus with a gun???). This exercise has never failed to produce insightful discussion, so I thought doing something similar in preparation for this guest post might relieve my writer’s block…and as it turns out, my first couple of search results for the phrase “body positivity” were scarily close to what I had supposed they would be: a photo of women with different body sizes proudly modeling underwear, and right next to it a set of “before and after” shots of a woman who had lost a significant amount of weight.

Daily, we receive conflicting messages about how we should view and treat our bodies. We hear from medical professionals, nutrition experts, and even the government about dangers associated with unhealthy food choices and larger body sizes. The diet and fitness industries take this message to another level, training us to believe that we’re fat, lazy, wastes of space unless we’re as toned as Jillian Michaels. But oppositely (some will disagree with me on this), we hear an equal abundance of “Love your body!” messages, especially from women’s organizations, the fat-positive movement, the eating disorder recovery community, and various nonprofits aimed at building self-esteem and healthy body image in young girls. We get both types of messages both in the media and in daily life. Within a single hour-long dinner, I’ve heard both, “You’re beautiful just as you are” and, “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” from the same friend. It’s little wonder that many people find themselves perplexed about what “body positivity” even means. I’ve never considered myself particularly good-looking, but I certainly don’t see myself as unattractive, and I have many friends who would say the same about themselves. Does body positivity require being able to say, “I am beautiful and I love my body no matter its size”? Does it mean making “healthy” changes in order to adjust one’s body size or improve physical abilities? Or is it something else entirely?

Perhaps I’m not the best person to be discussing body positivity, but I feel that I have a certain degree of competence in this area just from lived experience. On my own blog, I’ve shared openly about my struggle with bulimia (link: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/02/27/encountering-the-mirror-of-erised/), and though I don’t see body dysmorphia as a cause of my eating disorder, in addressing the condition I’ve necessarily had to explore questions of body image. In the world of eating disorder treatment and recovery, it is assumed that a people dealing with these conditions have severe body image disturbances. In many (though not all) cases, this is true. One doesn’t spend more than an hour in a residential eating disorders facility without hearing, “I’m fat and ugly,” or “I hate my body.” That’s why anorexia and bulimia treatment programs usually involve a significant amount of activities designed to increase body positivity or at least get clients thinking about body-related beliefs. Seven years ago during one of my stints, I spent many a day drawing pictures of my body, evaluating magazine ads for the messages they send about acceptable body types, constructing body positivity collages, discussing the impact of Barbie dolls on self esteem, writing letters to my body, and so forth. A Christian treatment facility where I once received treatment actually had us searching the scriptures for positive body image messages, and therapy groups often ended up being informal proof-texting sessions. As a result I’ve never forgotten Psalm 139:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Though I participated fully in treatment (while admittedly being a terrible patient at times), I don’t think any of those activities had even the most miniscule of impacts upon how I viewed my body at the time, or how I view myself now. Ultimately, I’ve come to see most of them as impractical efforts at putting a Band-Aid on a wound that requires far more than superficial healing. You might be stopping at this point to suggest that maybe these exercises just weren’t the best for my situation, or to remind me of how in the last paragraph, I admitted that body dysmorphia was not a factor contributing to my eating disorder. But the truth is, while I’ve never wanted to change my body in any serious way, I’ve never acquired the ideal sense of body image either. I don’t think too many people have, even most who claim absolute, unmarred love for their bodies…even therapists specializing in eating disorders. I’ve never met a person who hasn’t had a bad body image day at one time or another—whether it’s brought on by general insecurities about size, a clothes shopping excursion, a critical remark from mom, or a vague sense of, “I’m not feeling so confident this morning.” Such days are part of life, and there’s nothing that will make them go away permanently. There is no silver bullet for forcing a person to believe that he or she is “beautiful,” and even if there were, I’d not be convinced that it would bring about true “body positivity.”

As I see it, the presence of body positivity does not necessarily indicate the absence of occasional body negativity. Body positivity does not require thinking you’re beautiful—as the old adage says, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there’s nothing wrong with having a sense of neutrality about one’s body. Unlike body acceptance campaigns would like us to believe, “I look okay,” and “My body is alright,” are not dangerous words. They are not the same as, “I hate myself.” To me, body positivity means being able to accept the limitations of one’s body, whatever those may be. Not everyone can be thin, or even “normal” as far as weight goes. I’m still working on accepting that after years of damaging behaviors, my body is currently larger than it has ever been, and despite workouts and healthy eating, that’s probably not going to change much because my metabolism is so irregular. I believe that sometimes, body positivity can involve standing up for oneself when a medical professional uses one’s body size to assert, “If only you ate better and exercised more, you wouldn’t have the health problem you’re currently experiencing.” At the same time, body positivity can be expressed in seeking help and support, or listening to a doctor’s unpleasant-yet-true words of advice about living more healthily. It can mean deciding to alter one’s body for any number of reasons, or contentedly accepting one’s body for what it is despite external pressures to make changes. But most importantly, body positivity is accepting oneself as a beloved child of God, created in his image and likeness. It means approaching Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist with awe and wonder, treasuring the intimacy we experience with God as he enters our bodies and uses his own to bring us to wholeness.

Body Image and Eating Disorder Resources:

Something Fishy (link: http://www.something-fishy.org/)

Grace on the Moon (link: https://www.graceonthemoon.com/home.html)

Eating Disorder Hope (link: http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/)

ED Bites (link: http://edbites.com/)

About Face (link: http://www.about-face.org/)

The Body Positive (link: http://thebodypositive.org/)

Finding Balance (link: http://www.findingbalance.com/)

New ID (link: http://www.newid.org/)

Rock Recovery (link: http://rockrecoveryed.org/)