Shedding

The following are several pieces of writing about my experience before, during, and after top surgery and all the affirmations I wrote to myself as I processed.

[Content Note: Pictures of my body before and after surgery, including some which show swelling, bruising, and some blood]

12/8/20

Why top surgery?

Because I’ve not felt at home in my body for most of my life. 

12/11/20

Because I deserve to be at home in my body for the rest of my life.

Because everyone deserves that and who am I to let fear hold me back? It might help others be willing to live life on their own terms, too. 

Because as I sit here, drinking coffee and nursing a mild hangover from the shot of Fireball Whiskey I put in my eggnog last night, I know in my heart that this is right. 

That all is well and all will be well. 

12/14/20

Dear Future HL:

Today, you get top surgery. Congratulations! I know you’ve been waiting such a long time for this. Your recovery process will be hard but totally worth it to be at home in your own skin. That feeling may not be immediate. If it’s not, that’s ok! It doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice. It just might take a while to sink in. 

You’re going to be ok. You have survived so much to get to this point. Take it in with every breathe–in and out–of that new chest of yours. This life is yours and no one can take that from you.

So much love,

Past HL

Three Days:

A lot can happen in just three days. My advent–this period of waiting and longing–is almost over. In three days, I will have top surgery. Three days after that, it will be Christmas and I’ll be able to shower again. 

In three days, Jesus rose from the dead as a whole new person. So can I. Parts of who I was before are being removed as scars take their place. How remarkable that we can choose who we want to be and just be. How fucking remarkable is that? 

Tomorrow we celebrate the last Sunday of advent with the theme of Love–love that breaks through barriers and structures that cause destruction and pain. A love of yourself and others. This is love, that a man gives up his life for his friends. I’ll see you on the other side. 

Today, I feel ready. I feel confident. I feel like I’m so ready for this to happen to me after years of waiting. Soon, this transition will be complete. Well, the physical transition at least. Transitioning itself, for me, feels like it’s something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. 

12/23/20

My top hath been surgered. It still doesn’t feel real yet and probably won’t until the bandages come off for the first time.

I will say that it just feels right.

12/28/20

Tomorrow (hopefully), I’ll get my drains out and be able to see my chest for the first time. Also tomorrow, I’ll be a week post-top surgery! Not sure if I’m emotionally prepared for it yet but I am excited about it! Fingers crossed that the drains come out too because otherwise, I’m stuck with them for a little bit. I think I can handle that. 

1/2/2021

A binder, stitches, and glue…I feel like that’s what holds my body together currently. That’s what makes me real. Once all that goes away, will I fall apart? Or will I become brand new? Will I become…?

By far, my favorite picture of myself, which my wife, Amy took of me after they took my drains out and I could shower.

1/8/2021

Top Surgery Tales:

A little over two weeks post-top surgery, and I still don’t quite have the ability to process it. I thought it would feel real once it was over, once I saw my chest, once…etc. But I think, the reality will be once I’m no longer required to wear a binder and can truly live in my new body without it feeling like I’m still binding my chest because it causes me dysphoria.

On the day of my surgery, I got up three hours before I was required to be at the hospital and took my meds with the prescribed 8 ounces of water. And then. I waited. Most trans folks know all about the waiting. I had waited this long and the day was finally here. My stomach remained in knots and it took several trips to the bathroom to get the nerves out even though I hadn’t eaten anything past 10pm the night before (also as prescribed). 

Once my wife, Amy, and I got to the hospital, things moved rather quickly. We got checked in and sat and waited for me to be called back. Amy wasn’t allowed to come back with me to the pre-op area because of COVID restrictions. I wish I could remember the names of all the nurses who helped me get ready but sadly, with the side effects of anesthesia, I can’t really remember all of them. But they were very kind and respectful, asking what name and pronouns to call me. 

My surgery was supposed to be at 11:30am but my surgeon finished up her previous surgery early and they came to get me ready about thirty minutes ahead of schedule. My surgeon arrived to mark on my chest where she was going to cut alongside two residents and her energy and excitement made me feel less anxious. It also helped that my surgeon was cracking jokes and felt at ease.

The anesthesiologist came into the room next and was probably the kindest of everyone–thankfully, since I was most nervous about going under general anesthesia for the first time, he gave me a dramamine patch to keep me from getting nauseous. The fact that I remember most of the details of my day of surgery is somewhat of a miracle.

The CRNA (certified registered nurse anethesthetist) was who came to help wheel me back for surgery and she warned me once we got there, all the other nurses and doctors would come at me all at once to get me ready. At this point, there were already drugs in my system to calm me down but I was thankful for the head’s up.

Post Op Woes:

Waking up in recovery/post-op after surgery is one of the most disorienting and bizarre tales.

There was a nurse with me the entire time checking in on me. She gave me ice chips when I woke up because I was thirsty, and gave me some pain meds. Also, sprite which was the most refreshing drink I could think of at that moment.

Constipation–by far the WORST experience post-surgery other than dealing with the drains.

1/10/21

Welcome to the Party, Pal

Bodies are weird. I’ve spent some time recently trying to reconnect with my body through meditation, body centered practices, and masturbation. 

Today, I’m realizing I’ve divorced or disassociated from my body for so long.

Mine is a body that has experienced pain.

It has experienced both sexual pleasure and sexual assault.
But this body of mine is just that. It’s my body with all its history and stories to tell.

1/19/2021

As of this week, I’m a month post-top surgery! I don’t even know how to feel right now. Today, they took my dressings off and told me I could resume normal activities other than swimming or laying on my stomach. And, I don’t have to wear the post-op binder anymore! Strangely, that’s the weirdest part. I keep reaching for the binder that’s no longer there so I can pull it down. Binders have been a part of my life for at least three years now. So, I guess an adjustment period is perfectly normal.

Yesterday at my second post-op appointment when they took my dressings off!

1/20/2021

Shedding

Today, I told my therapist that getting top surgery and reaching new milestones in the recovery process felt like shedding layers.

Just a moment ago, I googled how many times a snake sheds its skin in a lifetime, and the answer I got was that most snakes shed their skin on average about 4 times a year. Why do they shed their skin? Because their bodies keep growing throughout their lives but the skin doesn’t grow with them. 

Some of you are probably getting the creeps by now but this is the closest analogy I can think of to how my body feels. I got top surgery about a month ago, and after one week, I got my drains out, after four weeks, I got my dressings off, and now, I’ve entered a new stage where my skin is scaly and scabbing over as my incisions heal. 

No one told me transitioning would feel quite so…gradual and…itchy. Metamorphosis is a process butterflies, moths, and the like go through as they grow from larvae to caterpillar to butterfly (or moth, etc). During which time, they spin a cocoon around themselves and become goo only to emerge later with a completely different body and wings that give them the ability to fly. I thought metamorphosis would be sort of like that and in some ways, it has been. Emerging from top surgery with a new chest/new body is certainly similar and I felt like I was trapped in a cocoon for a few weeks while the most crucial parts of the healing process required me to rest and not move much.

But today, I’m a snake shedding its skin and it feels uncomfortable. I am both delighted and astonished that I can just put on a shirt and walk out the door without a second thought, except it takes me about a hundred more thoughts to process. 

For three years, wearing a binder felt like a security blanket that also felt like armor protecting my body from the gaze of society that can barely understand much less accept me.

Now, the “protection detail” as it were is gone leaving me with a chest that feels right on my body and feels vulnerable to attack. After being under the watchful, suspicious eyes of the general public for so long, I do not know how to carry my body any differently. I have new skin so to speak but the same body memories. 

For someone who has most often not felt safe or at peace, safety and peace feel like a threat. As a trans person, my existence has been haunted by fear, isolation, trauma, panic. In the future, it may be slightly less so only because I might blend in a bit better. Do I build a new protective layer to blend in? Is it any safer out there for trans folks when we saw our greatest levels of violence and murder of trans people–particularly trans women of color? 

What does it mean to celebrate my body and reconnect with myself? When others want to pretend I do not exist, and yet now, I have the scars to prove it? 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all gloom and doom. I have come home to myself and I don’t plan on ever leaving because this body of mine is finally mine. 

I’m a gooey caterpillar-turned-butterfly, an itchy snake shedding its skin. And I am home.

upstream

Thinking about Mary Oliver, who passed two years ago today, and her one wild and precious life. I don’t have anything new to say; I just miss her and knowing she’s no longer with us. But what a great life she lived. 

Perhaps one of these days, I can write about the world we live in and life itself as beautifully as she did. She taught me to stop and listen to everything around me: the rustling of the leaves as the wind blows, the fluttering of wings when birds fly, the musical sound rain makes as it hits the ground.

She taught me to not only listen but to see, truly see, the world outside differently. Every blade of grass has a story, every tree has a soul worth acknowledging, every mushroom has an entire community beneath it giving it meaning and life.

The creeks that run near our house, filled with trash, flow under the bridge. The creeks that have an entire ecosystem depending on them that everyone takes for granted. The rivers that bring sweet solace to humans and animals alike sweep over rocks and trees and over banks and onto trails where people walk.

Those wild geese Mary fondly talked about still fly overhead as we try to find our place in the “in the family of things.” Thank you, Mary, for teaching us to stop and wonder and marvel at the world outside our doorstep. May we continue to do so and may it change how we interact with one another in your absence.

the way out is through

We’re going on a bear hunt:

I wish I had something beautiful to say after the election results. Mostly, just enjoying being able to breathe again and resume anxiety over the pandemic, debt, and systemic racism instead of just the election. It’s one less thing to worry about.

As it turns out, my brain cannot focus on anything in the aftermath of the election because I feel like I’m still recovering from being hyped up/anxious about the results. As it also turns out, COVID wouldn’t be the main reason I was struggling to focus on classes although that has definitely contributed. It feels like all those tabs in my brain need to be closed still before I can open anything new up and have space to work on papers.

The “feelings cycle” still needs to be completed. 

As it turns out, I am not done with my feelings about the election season. We have been harmed in numerous ways by the current administration and that harm and those feelings will not go away overnight. That is four years of trauma and pain and shit to recover from plus the generational trauma that led to it.

I just want to acknowledge that. Recovering from an abuser/oppressor while they’re still actively abusing and oppressing you but you’re almost free is hard. There’s a way out and a light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s going to be awhile before we can get off this ride. 

However, we can see the exits…we can see that there IS a way out but that way out is through. We’re still sitting in the shit but the way out is through. We will still have to get through this together and we are not alone. 

So, what’s next in this interim period? We keep fighting for change. The way out is through. Can’t climb over it, can’t go around it, we have to go through it.  The way out is through.

a better world

11/7/2020

A Better World

Today, I have screamed, I have spontaneously burst into tears, I’ve cheered with random strangers in a parking lot. It feels like we can collectively take a deep breath again. But, the fight is not over. It has only just begun as we course correct from our journey down the path of fascism in this country. 

We are not done. I do not pledge allegiance to this country just because its new leader will be closer to my political alignment. I do however, pledge to seek that “liberty and justice for all” for those for whom it is not true right now and won’t be true even when a new president is inaugurated in January.

Our country is still steeped in white supremacy, police brutality, mass incarceration, disenfrachisement of poor people, Black and indigenous people of color, queer people, disabled people…

For now…there is hope that propels us towards a better world, but it does not come without a revolution. For now, we keep fighting like hell for a world that means the disenfranchised and marginalized are truly liberated. Keep fighting. We’re not done yet. Fight for that better world for tomorrow.

hope deffered

“Oh what a glorious morning! Makes me sick” – Hocus Pocus

I feel like a bundle of nerves today and I’ve been trying to stay as calm as possible with as much self care as possible. Showering, masturbating, walking, baking, puppy snuggles. Focusing is hard, though I’ve tried reading for class with some calming music in the background. That worked for a little while. But my brain feels stuck in 2016 with all the hope that then came crashing down around us. In many ways, it was traumatic. My mind and body remember. We remember. I am afraid to hope for a better world than this. Either nothing changes and it gets worse, or everything changes and maybe it gets better. That’s a big maybe. God, I hope I’m wrong. 

I really hope I’m wrong and that I am surprised by hope instead. I’m remembering a passage of Scripture and I can’t remember (or mentally blocked it out) where it comes from: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Of course, I have that memorized in King James English. I’m guessing it’s from Proverbs.

I would love for 2020 to give us something good for once. Having top surgery at the end of the year feels fitting. I get to leave my chest behind in this dumpster fire of a year. Whether it’s hope deferred or hope realized, the wheel keeps turning. That’s all I’ve got for today. In the end, we have each other, so hold on to one another.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” 

What Is Love (take action)

Sermon for Jubilee Baptist Church

August 30, 2020

HL Holder-Brown

Texts: Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Romans 12:9-21:

12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

12:10 Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

12:11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

12:16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

12:18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

12:20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Matthew 16:21-28:

16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

16:22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

16:26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.

16:28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Sermon:

(If you want to listen to the sermon you can do that here)8294A5A2-C304-4A87-B02E-02A72A1DB219

What is Love (This one is for Jakob Blake)

So…Peter. God bless Peter but he really does have those moments where he has to stick his foot in his mouth. He says what’s on his mind–without any hesitation even when he should keep his mouth shut.

But, Jesus always seems to know how to put him back in his place. This time, he even calls him Satan. Now, here Satan doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus is calling Peter the devil. Satan in the Greek just means adversary. Peter and Jesus have different goals in mind for Jesus’ life and Jesus wants Peter to shut up and let him do what he’s going to do.

Naturally, Peter goes from proclaiming that Jesus is Lord one minute to getting called Satan.

Peter didn’t want Jesus to die. Of course not! No one wants their dearest friend to die and especially not Jesus–the very one he just called Lord. But Peter also missed the point of what Jesus was doing. Peter is a rock but he’s also the rock that definitely doesn’t think before he speaks. And sometimes, he acts without thinking. (Please see that one time he pulled a sword on a dude and chopped his ear off)

So, what does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus? Because Jesus is in essence saying that his followers should be willing to take up an instrument of death and follow him. Jesus, defier of the Roman government, was about to be murdered by the state in one of the most painful ways possible and he asks his followers to be willing to do the same. 

Jesus: What if we healed the sick, provided homes for the homeless, freed slaves, and helped the poor!

Roman Empire/Religious Leaders: This is a threat to our power; crucify him.

If that doesn’t sound familiar to where we are today. When I say, take up your cross, this is the vision of Jesus I picture. 

When three trans women of color can get attacked in the streets without anyone doing something about it, when a Black man can get shot 7 times in the back by a police officer, THIS is what I mean when I say take up your cross, and follow Jesus. 

The Empire doesn’t like it when you challenge their power or try to reallocate that power so that others have a fighting chance. I do not mean to suggest here what many evangelical pastors would, that you have to be willing to proclaim Jesus and convert everyone to Christianity even if it kills you. 

Death doesn’t have the final say here. Jesus knows there’s hope beyond this in Resurrection and restoration of the world as it currently is. There is hope here.

Dr. James Cone, in his classic work The Cross and the Lynching Tree compares the cross to another symbol of death, “the lynching tree”  in the Jim Crow era when he notes: “In that era, the lynching tree joined the cross as the most emotionally charged symbols in the African American community–symbols that represented both death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope.”

What I think is going on here is that Jesus is asking people to live life in a radically different way than they have before. The world doesn’t have to be this way! It can change.

Cone continues by added that, “Both the cross and the lynching tree represented the worst in human beings and at the same time ‘an unquenchable ontological thirst’ for the life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.” (Cone, 3)

Last time you heard from me, I talked a lot about what the kin-dom of God looks like. We concluded that it looks a lot like Love–the kind of love that is liberating and radical, kind, and world-changing.

In chapter 12 of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul is following up on this and even quotes Jesus’ words on how to treat our enemies. Paul expounds on Jesus’ words about enemies by reminding his audience that if your enemy is hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.

If love is to be liberating, it means feeding the hungry even when the ones who are hungry wouldn’t do the same for us. It means that liberation is coming for everyone and especially for those who desperately need it the most. 

Romans 12 is almost a sermon unto itself. “Let love be genuine…hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” Let your love be real. Hate evil. Hold onto what is good in life. Take care of each other. There are lots of action verbs in this passage. “LOVE one another.” “Bless those who persecute you” “Live in harmony with one another.” It’s anything but passive and requires something of us.

***this is a rant***

It literally costs you nothing to say the bare minimum of “right things” that make you sound radical and social justicey. Love looks like changing the world and living in solidarity with folks who have less privilege. 

What have you used your privilege for today that can change the world for those of us with less privilege tomorrow?

Leverage your privilege so that you’re using it for good. If you’re just saying words and not enacting change, then your words are clanging cymbals. I demand more than words. So much more. 

I demand this of you and of myself that we are doing more than posting on social media (although that certainly has its place too)

This makes me reflect back on Hunter’s sermon a couple weeks ago about Jesus and the woman he called a dog. Because when you preach about how people deserve more than crumbs, you can’t just give them crumbs in your own life by not actually doing anything about the world we live in.

It requires not only making a seat at the table for everyone. Sometimes, it requires building a whole new table altogether and imagining a world that is infinitely better. Where you don’t have to add chairs and make people sit together when some at the table have all the power and others have none. As Kaitlin Curtice suggests in her book Native, sometimes what we need is to build the table outside, where there’s so much more room for everyone.

Sometimes, also like Jesus, you have to flip those tables over because religious leaders are exploiting folks who have come to worship. Or protesting police brutality and standing in solidarity with Black people, with trans people, against state sanctioned violence. And sometimes, that shit can get you killed. 

This is getting into what John Lewis called “good trouble” by resisting the way things are and refusing to accept anything less than justice. It looks like putting your body on the line in front of those who would cause harm.

I have to wonder if preaching about this is enough sometimes. If my words and the words of others will motivate you to action (if you aren’t already involved) or not. In the words of Brenè Brown, “I’m not here to be right; I’m here to get it right.”

Whatever you do, taking up your cross requires action. It is anything but being a passive bystander as injustice is perpetuated. Don’t be like the “white moderates” Dr. King referred to in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. 

As Dr. James Cone says, “It is one thing to teach theology (like Niebuhr, Barth, Tillich, and most theologians) in the safe environs of a classroom and quite another to live one’s theology in a situation that entails the risk of one’s life.” (Cone, 70)

Taking up one’s cross to liberate others is messy, hard, and holy work. I believe it is required of those of us who truly say we are in solidarity with the poor, with workers, with Black and Indigenous people of color, with queer people, with the disabled. 

The kin-dom of God looks like love. It looks like taking up your cross and following Jesus to the middle of the fight, and that love looks like solidarity and justice for the oppressed. May we all begin doing or continue doing that holy work together. May we strive for resurrection and the restoration of a world where we all can gather at the table. Amen.

Benediction:

I dwell in Possibility – (466)

BY EMILY DICKINSON

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –

Impregnable of eye –

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –

For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –

this is me trying

“They told me all of my cages were mental so I got wasted like all my potential. I just wanted you to know that this is me trying. I just wanted you to know that this is me trying.”  ~ This is Me Trying, Taylor Swift

“Keep your helmet, keep your life, son. Just a flesh wound, here’s your rifle. Crawling up the beaches now “Sir, I think he’s bleeding out”
And some things you just can’t speak about.” ~ Epiphany, Taylor Swift

Sometimes the only words I can think of are someone else’s words. Right now, I mostly have Taylor Swift lyrics in my head. It could always be worse. Once upon a time, I was supposed to be writing a sermon, but I came here instead. 

This week I’ve gotten my blood drawn to check my hormone levels, had a therapy session with a skeleton in the background, and had a haircut. And my wife and I have had some interesting conversations about gender, bottom dysphoria, and packers, etc. 

Also, the group chats I’m apart of for queer folx and trans/non binary folx have been very active this week. Perhaps it is because of Leo season, I don’t know. 

This stream of consciousness livejournal I’ve been keeping this summer has been fun. As long as I keep writing, it is successful. If I fall behind, I just catch up again. 2020 is all about giving ourselves a break and showing one another grace in impossible and difficult times no one could have imagined. 

“Don’t call me kid. Don’t call me baby. Look at this god forsaken mess that you’ve made me.” ~ Illicit Affairs, Taylor Swift

Really, I came here because a few photos came up in my memories today. And, well, I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Four years ago, I was in the process of coming out as queer and not in a safe home environment. I was living with my parents after graduating college and desperately needing to get out.

Three years ago, I DID get out but it took a long time for me to feel ok and safe. Sometimes I still don’t feel safe but I know I am. Three years ago, I look back and the me then feels haunted. Haunted and sad. Like, if I didn’t make it out of that alive, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. My parents begged me to stay after attempts to force me into conversations with their pastor and a “biblical counselor” of their own choosing failed.

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To three years in the past me:

I just want you to know that you will be ok. You will find love and safety and family. You will find all of those things in abundance and in ways you never thought possible. Keep going, dear heart. You will make it out of this alive and you will fucking shine. 

All that to say, surviving hell and abusive situations is possible. But it’s surviving hell, and hell doesn’t leave you unscathed. But you will be ok. You might even start smiling again–but for real this time.

Sincerely,

2020 me

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let love be messy

Sermon preached via Zoom at Jubilee Baptist Church, July 26, 2020

Texts:

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

13:31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;

13:32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

13:33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

13:45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;

13:46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

13:47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;

13:48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad…

13:49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous

13:50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

13:51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”

13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)

8:35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

8:36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,

8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sermon: We Belong Together (Thanks Pat Benatar) aka Let Love Be Messy

Picking up where Heather left off last week, we’re looking at another set of parables that Jesus told to his audience and his disciples. Parables aren’t meant to have one singular meaning but can have many meanings and interpretations. Which makes things a little easier but also feels like Jesus is using some sort of secret code and is leaving it up to us to decipher it.

That being said, there can be many truths found in the parables not just one moral to the whole story. Father Richard Rohr is known for saying that God is in everything. Many indigenous people believe similarly that God can be found in nature, in water, in the Earth, and all around us. 

For example, if we take this just a little literally, I’m curious how many of you have seen a mustard seed? Jesus refers to it as the “smallest of the seeds.”  

The Message translation of this passage refers to the seed as a pine nut: 

“God’s kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it.”

The closest comparison I have to this is bonsai seeds. Recently, I planted some seeds that are meant to grow into tiny trees. Bonsai is Japanese for tray planting and is an art form in Japan and China. The seeds don’t necessarily grow into small trees on their own–they have to be cultivated this way. When planted in the right containers and the right environment, these trees, though small, are just as beautiful.

Next, let’s talk about yeast. Yeast is actually a microorganism. It’s also considered a fungus and does some really cool stuff. I guess you could call it small but mighty. Most of us are familiar with it as a way to make bread dough rise, it’s used in starters for bread, and it’s pretty important in making Beer and other alcoholic beverages. 

In case anyone’s wondering how I’ve been spending my time during Covid, it hasn’t been through baking bread (YET) but I have learned some pretty cool things about yeast. For instance, did you know you can make your own yeast? Well, not quite like that, I guess.

 One article I read about the sourdough craze notes: “What you’ll actually be doing is capturing wild yeast and bacteria that’s already present in the air or in the flour to make a “sourdough starter.” This is what bakers have relied on for generations before commercial yeast became available less than 100 years ago.”

Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church writes about these parables by describing the world Jesus’ audience is living in:

The world of the disciples is one of domination and violence. Their world is one in which the wealthy and powerful rule over the weak, take advantage of that weakness, crush it under the boot, and lash it with the whip. It is a world in which Caesar is both king and god, a cruel, irrational tyrant who takes vengeance against his enemies.”

So, instead of referring to the “kingdom” theologians like Asa Maria Isasi-Diaz, mother of mujerista theology, have offered up kin-dom as an alternative. 

Melissa adds, “Kin-dom became the language she used to describe God’s libertad, the liberation of God at work among people, the good news for those who suffer at the hands of kings. Isasi-Díaz dedicated her life to the work of mujerista theology, where the center of theological study is borne from the experience of Latinas…Liberation is found not in hope deferred to another world, to life after death, but what can be created now.”

So, if the kin-dom is liberating and God is all around us, I’d like to offer up this interpretation of the parables we’ve read:

Ultimately, it seems Jesus is comparing the “kingdom of heaven” (referred to henceforth as kin-dom) to seemingly insignificant things that can become hard to miss. You may not notice mustard seed. Or yeast. But, you do notice what they produce. It’s hard to miss trees! Or bread–especially when it’s baking. The smell permeates everything. Jesus tells us in agricultural and baking terms what the kin-dom looks like.

The kin-dom looks like finding priceless treasure, like catching so much fish that you have more than enough to provide for everyone’s needs. 

When you least expect it and where you least expect it, the kin-dom of God is there. The kin-dom of heaven is what we make of it–it’s not something we have to wait for. 

The kin-dom of heaven is here on earth right now.

The kin-dom of heaven looks like going to the local Mcdonald’s early in the morning when the queer latinx worker greets you and has a full face of make-up and beautiful nails. Which is to say, the kin-dom of God is queer as hell.

The kin-dom of heaven seeks justice for Black and Indigenous people of color and sees the beauty in diversity.

The kin-dom of heaven sees disabled people and their need for accessibility and gives it to them.

The kin-dom of God looks like everyone has enough. Enough food, enough money, enough love. Everyone is taken care of. 

The kin-dom of God looks like wearing a mask in public to prevent the spread of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting the elderly, disabled, people of color, and the poor.

The kin-dom of God looks like White people marching in solidarity with Black and brown people for equality, ending systemic racism and police brutality, and abolishing prisons and systems that are destroying them.

Finally, I strongly believe the kin-dom of God–the kin-dom of heaven–looks like Love. Not a love that excuses bad behavior or a love that’s superficial. But Love that is radical, affirming, solidarity with our neighbors. Love that changes and shapes the world as we know it. Amen. 

Benediction:

From Rev. M. Barclay, Enfleshed

Let Love Be Messy

Love isn’t just one thing;

It’s fierce and soft,

Intimate and collective,

Wild and sincere and deliberate

And just.

Love can be more chaos than order.

Love can be tension.

Love can be conflict.

It’s complicated.

It’s multifaceted.

Love is hard work and so easy.

Love always leads to Life.

Love is an ever-unfolding thing

We are all still figuring out.

Let love be messy.

Amen.

the story of tonight

“I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight…Raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away, no matter what they tell you.” ~ The Story of Tonight, Hamilton

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No one should have to be made a martyr for others to obtain justice.

“I can’t breathe.”

8 minutes and 46 seconds. George Floyd’s life was ended tragically by a police officer kneeling on his neck, suffocating him for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

And Elijah McClain. An autistic Black kid with a running mask on, was tackled and then drugged by police and later died.

His life is gone too soon in a similar fashion. “I can’t breathe.”

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Breonna Taylor, in her home, asleep. Was shot eight times when police stormed her house (the WRONG house) without announcing themselves. She was shot. Eight. Times. By police who have yet to be brought to justice. You can sign the petition here.

“I can’t breathe.” 

Centuries of trauma in that one phrase. Government endorsed murder.

Do you know what it’s like to struggle to breathe because a knee or someone’s arms are around your neck. Do you know what it’s like to be held down so that you can’t breathe?

Simply because you exist. Because your existence poses a threat and someone else has the power to take that existence away from you?

“I can’t breathe.”

When I was a child, I had an older male cousin who enjoyed dunking my head underwater while we played in the pool. Once, he held my head down until I came up, gasping for breath. This same cousin was known for exerting his male dominance over my younger sisters and was the closest thing to a bully I can remember. I had the bruises to prove it.

Another memory I have is of my father holding my head under water while we were “playing” in the pool. Again, I came up gasping for breathe as my father held a perverse grin on his face. Both of these stories involve men/boys exerting their power over myself and others they perceived as weaker or Other. It wasn’t the last time.

“I can’t breathe.”

I can feel my chest tightening. I tell those stories because the difference between my childhood abuse and the story of George Floyd and so many others is that I am alive. George Floyd is not. He should still be here. So many others should still be here.

If you want to know why protests are still happening, why we are screaming about abolishing the police and prisons, it’s because of this.

Because as long as Black people are being attacked and murdered by the police, White Supremacists, or dog walkers in parks, as long as Black people can be pulled over by the police for speeding and end up dead, we’re not done yet.

Not until the world looks drastically different than it does now. Not until we see that a different world is possible and we fight like hell together, in solidarity with one another for it.

P.S. Shana Tucker, a musician friend of mine wrote this Requiem for Elijah McClain that I can’t stop thinking about.

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Pulse: 4th Year Anniversary

Four years ago, at 2:02 am, Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Forty-nine people were beautifully queer and were in what, up until then, was a safe and sacred place.

I tell this story every year because I think it’s important to remember and honor the lives lost. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and checking Twitter. And then, feeling nauseous and panicked. I held my breath, like I’m doing now writing this. I watched update after update.

As a closeted person at the time, it didn’t feel like there was a physical space where I could publicly grieve. So, I grieved online with (mostly) complete strangers on Twitter. Many of those same strangers then are some of my closest friends now. ❤

Every year since, my body remembers this day as if I was there. PTSD is a strange and complicated thing. Like many queer folx, I feel the weight of this day but also remember how the queer community grieved together and held each other up.

Today, I’m not only out, but I’ve been married to my wife for a little over two years. Four years ago, I don’t think I could have fathomed the life I have now. Today I’ve also been on low dose testosterone for four months.

I wish I could say things were better and safer for queer folks today than it was four years ago. But just this week, more Black trans women were murdered. There’s still so much work to do.

For today, it’s enough to raise awareness that the fight is far from over. And for now, i’m going to keep breathing.