of noisy gongs and clanging cymbals

bINq5RB3Rr+Bk9hHR26amw(Content Note for talk of hell, spiritual abuse, etc.)

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plants and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” ~ I Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT)

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in god, and God lives in them…Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he first loved us.” ~ I John 4:16, 18-19

Growing up, fear and love were inseparable concepts. Because my parents “loved me,” they would punish me and my siblings physically instilling fear anytime I remotely thought I might be doing something wrong.

Because God “loved me,” and didn’t want me to die and go to hell, God supposedly killed his son, Jesus on a Roman cross because of my sins. Unsure what “sins” a 6 year old can commit exactly other than maybe being a kid and not always listening well to my parents, but I do know I believed all of that. And “got saved” at that age–which is fundamentalist/evangelical speak for I confessed my sins to God and “accepted” that Jesus died to take the punishment for my sins.

Love and fear might as well have been the same thing. And all the other kids I grew up with most certainly didn’t want to go to hell either. To the point that we were told we had to evangelize our classmates in elementary school so they wouldn’t go to hell.

Love also included never questioning anything the adults or pastor said and inevitably meant never questioning anything. Which is pretty damn hard for an inquisitive kid. As it turns out, the reason I often don’t ask questions today is because I’m afraid. I am afraid that asking questions will mean getting into trouble with authority figures, or friends, or even sometimes my partner. As it turns out, I’m also afraid to ask for what I want or need. Better to sit in silence and never speak out than to suffer consequences.

It turns out that’s how cults work but not how the real world is supposed to work.

“Such love has no fear,” the Apostle John wrote of God’s love. And yet my mother sends me emails often about how much God loves me while also implying I should forgive my abusive father. The word forgive here meaning still interact with regardless of past abuses.

“Such love has no fear…” Love and fear do not coexist. Where love truly is…fear cannot come. Fear is not welcome here. And love is not manipulative. It is not saying “I love you” a hundred times over like a  faucet dripping constantly. It is not shouting “I LOVE YOU” while disregarding boundaries. It is not bible verses sent with an ulterior motive. It is not telling your gay kid they need to repent because they’re embarrassing you in front of your church friends. It is NOT gossiping about people’s “lifestyles” behind their backs.

“Such love has no fear…” Love and fear do not coexist. To be truly loved is to be safe and cared for and accepted as you are. 

Love is not a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. You’re just making a racket and giving everyone a headache.

If you speak of a God of love, justice, and compassion, a God who saves. And then you tell me that God’s love, justice, and compassion are conditional for someone like me, you are a noisy gong and clanging cymbal. If you say you love LGBTQ folks and are “concerned for our souls and eternal destiny” but aren’t concerned that we’re being murdered and committing suicide because of your beliefs…YOU ARE A NOISY GONG AND A CLANGING CYMBAL.

And while I’m at it, and still pissed off at The Gospel Coalition and the “religious liberty task force”:

You speak of morality and religious liberty. You speak of ethics. What is unethical and immoral is denying part of who people are. Denying them access to healthcare, public restrooms, jobs.

My identity is in Christ… as an LGBTQ individual created in the image of a God who not only created human beings as male and female, straight and cisgender but ALSO everywhere in between. Intersex, non binary, bisexual, gay.

Let me put it this way:

The universe is vast and wonderfully beautiful and complex. It is beyond binaries that we have created to understand it and the humans that exist in it. Human beings exist outside of predetermined categories. God created us to express our differences including sexuality and gender identity. How else could you get a world that not only has millions of ice cream flavors, billions of stars, and queer people.

Broaden your horizons, dear ones, because your god seems small and full of contradictions if you think everything is binary. We don’t even know half of what’s in the ocean. A God that can exist outside of the gender binary is not bound by narrow hermeneutics.

That is a God of Ethiopian eunuchs and Apostle Paul

Of Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter

Of the woman at the well and Nicodemus

That is a God who walked 33 years in our shoes and loves all of us as we are.

“Such love has no fear…”

 

 

stop the bleeding

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“You are not waiting for permission.” ~ Jamie Lee Finch, on the Millenneagram Podcast

“When you soak a child in shame, they cannot develop the neurological pathways that carry thoughts of self worth…self-hatred is only ever a seed planted from the outside in.” ~ Hannah Gadsby, from her Netflix special Nanette

“Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, pleading fervently with him. ‘My little daughter is dying,’ he said. ‘Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.’ Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him. A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.

She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.’ Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition. Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my robe?’ His disciples said to him, ‘Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?”  

But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” ~ Mark 5:21-34

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over,” Jesus says to a woman who has suffered for twelve years from bleeding that just. won’t. stop. Sometimes we have to seek out our own healing and become the instruments of that healing. And sometimes the people who seem most qualified to help us make us worse (ie biological family, doctors, etc.)

Sometimes we have to seek our own healing. Sometimes…healing is a choice. Or maybe it always is. Sometimes others have the power to set us free or hold us captive and they don’t want our healing. They want our fear, our money, or loyalty. They want the control they can hold over us.

Jesus came to heal, to bring those outside their community back into relationship. He came to alleviate suffering. So, a woman whose name we don’t know comes and only wants to touch his clothes because she knows Jesus’ very essence brings healing. She seeks her own healing even though she’s been seeking it for so long–this is her desperation, her last-ditch effort to be welcomed back into a community that excommunicates those who are different.

I know a little too much what that’s like so on this last Friday of Pride Month, it’s appropriate for me to be here saying, you can choose your own god damn healing regardless of what others may think in the crowd around you. You can choose your own god damn healing from the demons and people who have controlled you and told you are not worthy, that you should hate yourself. As this Pride Month comes to a close, my father choose to continue seeking control that he no longer has, so here’s me seeking my own healing in a letter just for me to remind myself of that:

Dearest Dad,

The apostle John wrote these words that would do you well to heed, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” ~ I John 4:18

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Please tell me why I should make myself small again and re-traumatize myself in order to maintain a relationship with you. for no other reason than that you are my “daddy” and you say you “love” me? You may have helped bring me into existence but I survived in spite of you. I do not need you in my life in order to live it. I choose living over surviving. Mama said you were hurting…imagine that. Imagine how those around you–your children, your wife, your friends, your parishioners have been hurt. Because you taught me to fear you and called it respect. You called that control love. You told me I would go to hell if I didn’t “accept Christ as my Savior” and then you showed me what hell was like on earth. Spanking you said was the “biblical” way to discipline your children. Except this discipline was oftentimes just for being kids. The psychological effects of your words were worse, because that wasn’t the only time you touched me without regard for my well-being. You do not own your wife’s or children’s bodies. You never will, but you damn well thought you did.

I do not owe you a relationship. The very definition of abuse seems to be telling someone you love them while doing and saying things that shame and harm them. Love is NOT equal to fear. Leave me the fuck alone until you can learn this. 

Once you told me you’d rather die than see me with a woman, so I’m making sure you don’t because while you seek to control me, I seek no ill will against you. You see, I’m still “respecting” you. Really, I’m choosing to respect myself. However, when you told me that, I wondered briefly if you’d rather have a dead child than a gay one. I do not seek your approval or anyone else’s to live my life on my own terms for my own safety and well-being. 

If you paid attention to anyone else’s feelings and beliefs, you’d know…you do not deserve the respect you demand. If you ever admitted to any wrong doing that is. You think I have lost my way and am in rebellion against God. You are NOT the prodigal son’s father who gets to be the hero of this story. I think it is YOU who have lost your way. 

Jesus loves me. And Jesus loves me unconditionally. May God have mercy on your soul for you have broken the spirit of a child who has grown into an adult who won’t take your shit anymore.

I choose my own goddamn healing. I choose to help myself stop the bleeding that you caused. Jesus loves me this I know. In spite of all you’ve done to make me believe the contrary.

Sincerely,

Fuck you.

Grammar

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Grammar

You should use correct grammar

They said with a hammer

As they beat me into a box that confined me

 

In a house that was meant

To accommodate she and he but not they

This house wasn’t meant to be home

 

Grammar

That feeling that I have always lived in someone else’s house

And used someone else’s tools

To live in someone else’s world

 

I put the words together to please the general public

As they attempted to tether me

Within the walls of a house I was not invited into

 

Grammar

You see, parts of my body, my given pronouns, even my name

Sometimes have felt like living in someone else’s house

But not having a place to call home

 

You should use correct grammar

I said with my own hammer

As I constructed a house meant for They

on the 2nd anniversary of pulse

 

(Content Note for discussion of mass shootings, homophobia, and suicide)

June 12, 2018. the 2 year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. This morning, I woke up feeling like there was just this heavy weight sitting on my chest. Much like when I woke up at an unusually early hour two years ago on Sunday, June 12, 2016 to check twitter.

It still feels surreal. Sometimes it still feels like it happened yesterday. Two years ago, I was only out to a few close friends and on Twitter. And I actually remember thinking to myself, “if other people want me dead, why don’t I just end things myself before they get the chance to kill me.” Which, SEEMS excessive but in reality, the amount of people on the LGBTQ community who have been suicidal, have attempted to end their own lives, or have actually died by suicide is so high.

Thankfully, I haven’t felt that way for two years, but it still hurts. It’s still scary to live in this world realizing people think either you don’t exist, or shouldn’t exist. It’s been two whole fucking years, y’all. And we’re still out here fighting, dying, living, celebrating, and resisting.

“for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36)

I know we don’t usually like the apostle Paul because he was kind of the worst, but when Paul reflects on this verse from Psalm 44, I felt that. And yet, he also wrote that nothing separates us from the love of God in the same passage. Not even homophobia, or mass shootings. Not self-loathing, or self-harm.

So, let’s contrast all that hate and grief and loss with love. Love that keeps us going. The kind of love that’s community, belonging, checking in on friends after a national tragedy to make sure they’re ok. It’s hellos and goodbyes from friends you met on the internet when they show up to support you at your wedding. It’s your best friend welcoming you into her home when parents go on homophobic rants that make you fearful for your safety.

It’s people respecting your pronouns and making you feel like you can be yourself when you’ve never been able to be yourself.

It’s seeing the love of your life in her wedding dress for the first time and realizing you get to marry such an amazing, good person. And just getting to do life with her knowing you’re finally safe and loved for who you are.

God is love…and you are so very loved.

You are loved and your love is not wrong. It’s beautiful, and brilliant. And all the colors of the rainbow.chelseamehalekphotography-160

“When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” ~ Lin-Manuel Miranda, part of the sonnet he used during his acceptance speech at the Tony’s in 2016

of flowers and bullshit

“But wait, oh  wait. See how the morning breaks! It’s the simplest of love songs but it’s all our hearts can take. And though we lose our stake, heaven is where we make it. Even in the smallest places can a garden grow.” ~ Garden, Noah Gundersen

“come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” ~ lucille clifton, won’t you celebrate with me

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It was the day after Mother’s Day when I had lunch with my mom and my sister. I am still recovering from that interaction, and I didn’t sleep much the night before. I had forgotten what it was like to have an entire day or even a week consumed by one interaction with my parents. This time, my mom needed me to know how much she and my dad were “grieving” and specifically how much my dad was hurting. I haven’t spoken to my dad since Thanksgiving.

When a parent decides to abuse their child, they don’t get to dictate how to make the child feel anymore. I am also tired of realizing the life I lived up until a couple years ago was so fucked up. I am glad I realize it and that I’m in a different place. It’s just a lot.

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I received a message this past Saturday from a former “friend” from my old church who’s been talking to my father apparently. The body count of the Evangelical church is so damn high, it’s like they used the bodies to build their own Tower of Babel of ignoring how deadly their theology is to LGBTQ people. But sure, we’re the ones rebelling against God.

I am happy. For perhaps the first time ever, and let me tell you, if ever there was a time for homophobic bastards to come out of the woodwork, I guess it’s now. Reaching the point not of reconciling queerness with my own faith but figuring out how to explain and reconcile it with those who share my faith seems absolutely ridiculous now. I just don’t care anymore for the feelings of The Straights. My love for my wife is not a perversion–oh yeah, by the way, I have a wife. Because it’s two thousand fucking eighteen and you can love whoever the hell you want.

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The walls of the house I grew up in used to scream with memories of what happened to me. Now that I’ve truly found a home that’s safe and have learned to love myself and others well, the walls aren’t screaming any more. I am not a perversion. I am a subversion of the systems that tried to destroy me. Not only is it time to bloom where I’m planted but it’s time to start flourishing.

And so the healing continues…

coming up for air

“Just keep fighting. Just keep fighting.  That’s what I’m supposed to do. If I just keep fighting, just keep fighting, maybe I’ll believe it too.” ~ Prophecy Girl, Jenny Owen Youngs

“There is some goodness in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” ~ Samwise Gamgee, from the film adaption of Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Little things, all the stereotypes
They’re gonna help you get through this one night
And there will be a day
When you can say you’re okay and mean it.” ~ Dodie, Secret for the Mad

My dear friends,

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written, so I have LOTS of life updates for you. The first of which I’ll focus on the most because I GOT MARRIED. Tomorrow it’ll be three weeks and I’m still having moments where it dawns on me that I’m married.

Just an excerpt from the morning of my wedding when I sat down to write in the few moments of quiet I had:

My stomach is all in knots–not because something bad is happening, but because something good is. Something very good. I get to marry the best person I know. She is kind and loving, she is hilarious and smart, she is beautiful and she is strong. She is not perfect but she is perfect for me. And soon I get to call her my wife.

It was the perfect day surrounded by our chosen family and I couldn’t have asked for a better day. How does one describe the most beautiful, perfect day of one’s life so far? It was like watching a sunset with all my favorite people and getting to share my happiness with them. Many of whom my wife and I wouldn’t be here without.

 

It was a tiny bit of what I imagine heaven to be like. The kingdom of heaven is here–in all the conversations, the laughter, the music, the good food, flowing alcohol, and hugs. In seeing my wife in her wedding dress for the first time and not being able to breathe or stop smiling.

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There are not enough words. It was the perfect day filled to the brim with happiness. I had no idea I’d ever experience this much happiness. It’s great to be free at least to just be myself and enjoy being alive.

So, yeah, I got married, got a tattoo, and applied to seminary all in a few weeks time because I LOVE doing lots at once and then getting too overwhelming to write about it for a bit. I keep looking at pictures and grinning like an idiot or crying all over again because I’m so damn happy, y’all.

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When my wife tells me that I’m safe, that I’m loved, that I am good…I finally believe that’s true. And when she tells me to breathe now I have that permanently written on my arm using her handwriting.

“How long can you wait to. breathe. deep. How long can you stay underneath? It’s hard to believe but I know you’re heart still beats. Rise on up, baby. Don’t need eyes to see…

It ain’t over, love. This I swear. It ain’t over yet. The light’s right here. And we’re coming up for air.

End of the line. There’s. Still. Time. Listen to me, child. You’re. Alive.” ~ Coming up for Air, Signals in Smoke

Oh Dysphoria

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“Here we meet again. It hasn’t been too long ago. My worst enemy seems to become my closest friend. Oh Dysphoria! Please don’t come again…” ~ Dysphoria, Leif De Leeuw Band

When I was in middle school, I remember having to memorize a list of pronouns.

I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, you, him, her, us, them, his, hers, theirs, ours…

Pronouns are similar to nouns but slightly more specific. We use pronouns all the time to describe ourselves as singular, collective, gendered, specific, subjective, objective, neutral.

Pronouns define us. All of us. And often they put us into categories of whether we are singular, with someone else, what our gender is, etc. But you didn’t come here for a grammar lesson (I hope…if you did, great!)…

Many folks who identify as trans/genderqueer will often change their pronouns from the ones they’ve always used as a way of transitioning and helping themselves align more with their genders. I am one of those folks who identifies as (read: I am) non binary. What that means is I was assigned female at birth but my gender is somewhere outside the gender binary of male and female. And for a while I was comfortable using she/her pronouns and being referred to as a woman but mostly out of convenience.

It is no longer convenient for me to do so because for as long as I can remember, folks automatically assumed that I was a woman either by using she/her pronouns, or calling me ma’am, etc. And it was UNCOMFORTABLE. It’s not that I am simply discontent with my body (which I am). I am distressed by parts of my body that are gendered female and pronouns assigned to me that are gendered female. This is what is known as dysphoria.

It’s like if someone constantly called you the wrong name (whether intentionally or unintentionally) or told you that you liked apples when you HATE apples and much prefer oranges. But much much worse. This feeling grates on you constantly and finally you get to a point where you have to say something or self-destruct (please don’t; don’t worry I’m no where near that point).

SO. This is me saying that to the rest of the world I guess outside of a few close friends and my partner. Binding my chest occasionally, cutting my hair short, and using they/them pronouns feels more me and aligns with the fact that I feel like my gender exists somewhere outside of and yet also between female and male. It’s ok to get it wrong as long as you acknowledge that and correct it. I know gender is complicated and it’s hard to think outside of the gender binary. But please know: it means a lot to me when the effort is made. I use they/them pronouns now. This is a part of who I am. And I am not an inconvenience that you can ignore. I don’t care of people think I’m a god damn unicorn. I am non-binary and deserving of the respect that is using the correct pronouns. That is all.