Wholly Holy Metamorphosis

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2/11/2020

Tomorrow I’m beginning a low dose of T and I have a lot of feelings. Mostly there’s a sense of relief that I’m on the right path. I know this is not a magical solution but it does feel like magic. And maybe that’s ok. I embody the magic that is becoming more myself. The magic is good and I am good. And I am enough. 

This all seems scary but also exciting all at once. I am so excited to the point of tears at the realization that this is real. I am ready to be Real. Is that too much to ask? I just want to be Real and feel Real. Ready to let T work its magic and perhaps provide some clarity as to the next steps ahead. I am ready.

*breathes* Now if I can let go of how others may react. Do I even share this publicly? Do I need to? Maybe not quite yet. We’ll see how it goes and how I feel first. How about that? Meanwhile, I’m still writing way more for the book than I am for school but I think this is the opposite of a problem. 

I am ready to be a trans non binary flower boi. That is what I’m ready for. That balance between feeling feminine and masculine and also neither and everywhere in between. 

2/18/20 

Wholly Holy

What does it mean to be whole? 

What does it mean to be wholly who you are? 

What is it like to live in a body that feels like home and doesn’t cause distress? 

My birth name is Holly. Which according to the baby name book my mother got for me means something related to the holly tree. Then, she found another definition: holy one. 

Like I’m some sort of angelic being who is supposed to be like God. I could never live up to that. That level of perfection that was expected of me.

What does it mean to be whole? I could never be holy. But I do want to be one. One with myself and this world I’m living in. 

My name now consists of two letters: H and L. No more or less. But it’s simple and it’s me. 

I do not want to be holy. But I do want to be home. I long for perfection that is a name to call my own, a body that feels like me, and a soul that dwells in perfect harmony with itself. 

Maybe my question should not be: “What does it mean to be whole?” But “What does it mean to come home to yourself?” 

I feel like a wandering spirit trying to find peace in a desolate land. Every she/her and “ma’am” feels like a warning that something isn’t quite right. Every “he/him” and every “sir” feels like a beckoning in a different direction. But that’s not quite right either.

Robert Frost wrote about “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” And all I’ve ever wanted was to create my own path. I do not care that it has never been travelled; I only care that it is my own. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” and I blazed my own trail because I wanted to go where only I could journey. 

Metamorphosis

Now my body is changing. Evolving. Rearranging hormones. It feels like being in a chrysalis. Actually, I think I’m at the hungry caterpillar stage but that could be the testosterone talking. 

My body is coming home to itself. Everything feels stable. Balanced. And yet ever fluid. My gender is a hungry caterpillar taking in everything and seeing where that takes me. What does it mean to come home to yourself? I do not know, but I am creating my own path to find out.

What does it mean to come home to yourself? I do not know, but when I find out, I will tell you.

What We Owe to Each Other

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I ended up preaching a sermon on consent, which is definitely something I’d love to hear other pastors do. But definitely not the kind of sermon I grew up hearing.

Jubilee Baptist Church, February 18, 2020

What We Owe to Each Other

Matthew 5:21-37

This passage is…a lot. So, I’m just going to take a moment and breathe before I start. 

This portion of the sermon on the mount has never been my favorite. It’s not “blessed are the poor for they shall see God” which lends itself much better to a nice, poetic sermon than these verses do. But this part of the sermon on the mount is incredibly practical for our relationships. This part of the Sermon on the Mount is often referred to as the Antitheses.

Amy-Jill Levine notes in the Women’s Bible Commentary, “The so-called ‘antitheses’ that follow are not opposing biblical Law (Torah). On the contrary, Jesus insists that Torah be kept, and a few of the antitheses are not found in Torah…” WBC, 469)

Ultimately what I think Jesus is talking about here is how human beings interact in community with one another. How do we have relationships with one another and how do we love each other well? Jesus specifically ties these interactions to sections of the Torah–his interpretation of the Jewish law. While Christians are not Jesus’ audience here, we can learn much from his words. This is a very ADULT LANGUAGE passage so I will be using some language that may not be as appropriate for children in the audience. 

It’s also important to note that Jesus is speaking to a particular audience–predominantly a jewish one–so we have to do some interpretation work here for those of us reading it in the 21st century.  I would also argue that Jesus is interpreting Torah for his context and we interpret the words of Jesus for our context while acknowledging that these words weren’t specifically meant for us.  

Also, the Bible is not a weapon *holds bible up* 

We must interrogate how this passage and others like it have been interpreted throughout church history.

If you grew up with a literal interpretation of the Bible, this passage is particularly troubling. Jesus is really good at using literary devices called metaphors. I feel a little bit like Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy right now. METAPHOR. I think he’s using one here. As in, how dare you objectify another person and not see them as fully human. It would be better for you to cut your own eyes out so that you can’t degrade another person. It would be better for you to cut your own hand off if it causes you to abuse another person in this way.

 Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher you’ve probably heard of would say it’s wrong to use a person “as a mere means” or a means to an end. He also has this concept of “a universal declaration of human rights.” I don’t agree with a lot of what Kant says, but this concept reminds me that we are to treat each other with dignity and respect. Things are to be used but people are to be loved.

Like, if your anger turns towards murderous intent instead of reconciliation, that’s a problem. And you should like, get therapy. Anger when channeled properly and used productively is great. But, if it leads you to hate someone to the point of murdering them. Well, Jesus says that’s bad. And yet, we’ve probably all definitely hated someone. The issue isn’t that anger is wrong but the potential anger has to cause harm instead of good. 

If we are not seeing each other as human beings–if we are not caring for each other well, then we need to examine how we interact with one another. 

Who gets to be angry? How is anger used to hold power and cause destruction instead of to help and heal? What is Jesus doing with the power dynamics that exist at this time?

Growing up, I was taught that anger was an emotion you should keep in check but I also grew up with an angry God. God was allowed to be angry, and men were allowed to be angry, but if you weren’t God or a man, your anger was wrong. Which was really inconvenient for me since I was angry about a lot of things. In a culture where only the powerful get to be angry, it matters that we can be angry about injustice and harness anger for good instead of abusing it. 

 Jesus is in such a patriarchal society (much like we still are today) that he has to call out his audience (particularly his male audience) for abusing and harassing women. Like. Cat calling? NOT OK. Objectifying women (or anyone of any gender)? NOT OK. 

Assuming that other human beings belong to you to use as you wish? NOT. OK. Jesus calls out these dudes and holds them accountable. That’s the part of this passage we can take literally. That we hold one another accountable for how we treat each other–especially in our more intimate relationships. yes means yes and no means no. At any point if you change your mind from yes to no, No Still Means No.  And there should not only be consent but enthusiastic consent. Ok? Ok. Moving on.

I do not think we are literally to cut off parts of our body just to keep ourselves from sinning. But then again, if we’re running with this metaphor…

We owe it to each other to live in community as fully ourselves.

BUT pastors wanna scare people half to death and say IF YOU HAVE LUST IN YOUR HEART YOU SHOULD TEAR YOUR EYES OUT. While I do think we should take objectification of other humans very seriously by holding one another accountable, I do not think it is necessary to shame people. 

When Jesus said to “love your neighbor,” he meant it. And I don’t think when Jesus said to love each other that he was talking about this superficial, hearts and rainbows kind of love. Jesus isn’t all like, “love one another! Heart emoji…” No. Jesus talks about this care for one another that involves radical inclusion and consent in all our relationships. It means we don’t use each other. It means we listen to each other and meet one another’s needs as a community. It means we owe one another consideration and care.

 I know the portions on lust and adultery have been used to shame folks instead of focus positively on our relationships with one another. That one section on divorce has caused more harm to people than we care to admit. Stop shaming folks for doing what is best for them in their relationships when they need to. 

Amy-Jill Levine adds, “In the broader Greek-speaking society, ‘adultery’ connoted illicit intercourse with ‘respectable women’ and thus indicated a violation of their honor…The Extension of the law against adultery to include lust suggests that no one should be regarded as a sex object. The burden is placed on the man: women are not held responsible for enticing men into sexual misadventures, but nor are they seen as active initiators of divorce.” (Women’s Bible Commentary, 469-470) 

 A lot of this seems like ethics–or, our conduct with one another. How do we see each other as human beings worthy of dignity and respect? How do we honor each other in all our relationships even if that means the end of a relationship for the good of all involved. 

(Some spoilers ahead for the good place)

In the show The Good Place, Eleanor Shellstrop (played by Kristen Bell) wants to know why it matters that she treats the other characters with consideration. The show loosely follows T.M. Scanlon’s ethical work entitled What We Owe to Each Other.

When Eleanor first gets to “the good place,” she can’t believe it! She’s lived a life that is selfish and has learned not to care about anyone but herself. But then she realizes, this is a case of mistaken identity. She’s in the wrong place! She might be a terrible person and maybe it matters how we treat each other. She goes to her friend (and soul mate) Chidi Anagonye, an ethics professor for help. Chidi teaches her and others on the show why it matters that we strive to be good people…because how we treat others matters in the here and now and not just in the afterlife.

 While we may not be trying to be good for “points” so we make it to “The Good place,” it does matter if we treat each other well. “You have heard it said…” is not a list of dos and don’ts. “What we owe to each other”–In the here and now–this kindom of God is where we get to show up and build community with one another.

In the words of the great philosopher, Chidi Anagonye, “ So why do it then? Why choose to be good every day, if there is no guaranteed reward we can count on now or in the afterlife? I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.” ~ The Good Place

Amen.

Blood Thicker Than Water

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So…I’m writing a book. I’ve been trying to find the perfect way to announce writing a book. I don’t know of any other perfect way than to share some of my writings recently. 

My story is one of figuring out where I belong, what family means, and where I fit into this crazy, vast world. This story is not a linear one. I am not even sure I want to start at the beginning of this story because my past has haunted me for most of my life. But every story has to start somewhere. 

This story is for anyone who has ever felt left out, orphaned, rejected, misunderstood. This story is for the queer kid still in the closet who is afraid to be themselves. Because blood is thicker than water and sometimes, we make our own family when the conventional, biological family rejects us simply for being who we are. This is a story for you. And I want to share mine with you in hopes that perhaps my voice and my story has something to offer this world. We learn through stories. And sometimes those stories save us. Someone else’s story saved me. So many stories have saved me. 

Maybe now it’s my chance to give back.

Chosen Family – Only the Good Die Young

The first thing I did when my parents approached me and said, “We need to talk to you about something later today,” I immediately messaged my handful of queer friends I had at the time–most of whom I knew from Twitter. My newfound queer community was predominantly online because I was still closeted and living in a small town. And because my only friends otherwise were from the fundamentalist cult or the fundamentalist college I went to.

 “Ah Fuck,” one of them responded and said to keep them updated in case I needed anything even though they were several states away. After the conversation where my parents told me someone at church saw that I posted on Facebook that I was gay. I went over to the only friends’ house nearby where I could be myself. I think we watched Doctor Who and made breakfast food for dinner. I almost left my parents’ house that night with nowhere else to go. But I knew that I at least had a few people in my corner.

Later, I would end up living in the same city as many of those same queer friends and invited several of them to my wedding despite having only met them online beforehand. And you know what, they still show up when it counts. Instead of Thanksgiving with my conservative right wing family this year where I knew my wife wouldn’t be invited, we had Friendsgiving with some of those same queer friends from 2016. It was the most relaxing Thanksgiving I’d ever had and it felt more like home than all those years growing up around biological family members who never really knew me as me. 

Family means spending a wild Saturday night curled up next to my wife and dog on the couch watching The Fast and the Furious, or being with my inclusive church community with my fellow queers as we sing hymns and hear sermons on social justice. Family means being part of a Dnd group where Carly Rae Jepsen is a goddess of the queers and you know you are safe and loved. Family means going to seminary with other supportive ministry queers who are wanting to spread healing and love right alongside you in churches that used to tell them they didn’t belong.

 Family means being able to show up as yourself on your wedding day in a suit and a bowtie as you pledge your love to your wife in your backyard because you can’t get married in the church you’re attending at the time. Because they don’t endorse “same sex marriage” yet. 

Family means a lot of things I didn’t used to know it could mean. And I am so grateful for my chosen queer family who holds me close in the best and worst of times.

There’s something so holy about queer people loving one another well. I’ve never felt more at home than with queer folks who take care of each other (and we’re really good at it.). I have one friend who loves to cook and always has food ready when a group of us hang out. I have another who checks in every so often just to make sure I am emotionally doing ok. I usually get a  “No really, how are you?” if I don’t answer honestly the first time. One friend is always recommending good books to help others in need, and the other constantly reminds us online to “stay hydrated, bitches.” 

God as my witness, there’s no family truer than the family you choose for yourself. My queer siblings and I may not share DNA but we look more like the early Church in the book of Acts than most Evangelical churches I’ve been in. We have all things common–mostly shared trauma–but we share all the good stuff too.

~~~ Water ~~~

2/9/2020 – Poetry, Learning to Swim, Drowning anyway

Wrabel “Poetry”  “I see poetry in your eyes. You’re the only reason we rhyme. Oh my my my, it’s a big big big world out there. And looking for something; I finally found it right here. Love makes the loudest sound the first time it comes around. Love makes the loudest sound the first time it comes around” 

I know I’ve neglected this space for the past week but I’m back and going to try to get on a better schedule. 

My mom had me go to swim lessons when I was four years old. Because she didn’t learn to swim until she was an adult as her mom was afraid of water even in a bathtub. She wanted to make sure my sisters and I could swim and not be afraid like she was growing up. 

My first lesson I was happily splashing in the water and got yelled at by the teacher because I guess I wasn’t taking it too seriously. Also, I accidentally splashed water in another kid’s eyes. Story of my life. The important thing is I eventually learned to swim. 

If only knowing how to swim was enough to feel comfortable in the water. When men start to sexualize your developing body at swimming pools and you feel disconnected from your body anyway, knowing how to swim isn’t enough. It felt like learning to swim and drowning anyway. In the words of Wrabel’s song “The Village,” There’s something wrong with the village, with the village.”  It was never my fault that I could swim but would drown anyway. My cousin once held me under the water just to prove a point and I came up gasping for breath. That’s how it always felt when I was around water. And yet, I was home there. 

One time when I was also around 4 or 5 our neighbors came over to have dinner with us and we had a really big kiddie pool in our backyard. Our neighbors had two boys, the oldest of which I looked up to very much and was in upper elementary school. He ran outside and threw off his shirt and jumped in the pool. I threw off my shirt too and tried to jump in the pool. My mother and his mother looked at me horrified and tried to explain why it was ok for him to take off his shirt and just have swim trunks but not for me, as a preschooler who was AFAB. I never forgot that moment and it was one of those reminders that something about my gender had to be presented differently than those categorized as “boys.” 

So I’m going to add this note from watching my wife train for a triathlon:

1/30/20

Having some thoughts about queer folx and black women teaching each other to swim. It’s kinda beautiful. The kingdom of god looks like this. I’ll have to develop this thought later but I just have this vision of a community of people who treat each other with equality and inclusion. And take care of one another well. That is the kingdom of God. And that is God’s kingdom come to earth right now. We don’t have to wait for it. The kingdom of God can be and is happening right now. 

Watching folx finally feel safe in the water and learning how to swim without judgment drowning them out is beautiful. Almost too beautiful for words, but I’ll keep trying. Feeling safe enough to swim is a skill I haven’t learned yet. I long for that moment. I long to feel safe in my own skin and safe in the water again. The water has always drawn me towards it as something that’s a part of me. I could stare at the ocean for hours. Maybe it’s because my sign is Cancer. Or because there’s something about a vast body of water that makes me feel connected to everything alive around me. Either way, I can’t wait to feel safe enough to swim and not drown. 

~~~ Blood ~~~

2/10/2020 

Today my parents have been married thirty four years. They actually got married on a Monday February 10, 1986. This was purely spur of the moment. They way they tell it, they were engaged but hadn’t decided when they wanted to get married. My dad called my mom that Monday morning and asked if she wanted to get married that day, she responded, much to his surprise, by answering yes! Let’s do it. 

They were married later that afternoon at a private ceremony at the church I grew up attending. Only family were present. 

It is not an accomplishment to be married thirty four years when it is your only option because divorce is considered sinful in 99.9 % of situations. It is not an accomplishment to be married thirty four years when the woman in the marriage has virtually no autonomy or agency. It is not an accomplishment to be married thirty four years if you believe you have no other choice. 

It is not an accomplishment to be married thirty four years. 

It is an accomplishment however negative to manage to acknowledge your other two children’s marriages to heterosexual norms and not acknowledge your oldest child’s marriage because they happen to be queer. So this year, I choose not to send my parents an anniversary card or gift. I don’t even remember if I sent one last year. Not that it matters. 

I share these two stories to say that the phrase “blood is thicker than water” is bullshit if it only refers to biological family. The family I was born into may be “blood” but they are certainly not the family I claim now. They certainly think they claim me by blood but do not treat me with full acceptance. 

“Blood is thicker than water” for me means that those who are meant to be my family regardless of what happens. My chosen family bonds are much stronger and have always been stronger than my biological ones. For this I am grateful beyond words. It is to this family that I write these stories. And it is to this family that I am accountable. 

This will be a story of queerness and love. It is a story of belonging to each other when we have been kicked out elsewhere. This is my story. But it is also yours.

Crying in the wilderness

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I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Mostly because of div school and work. But I gave a sermon yesterday at church that I wanted to share. And I do plan on writing some more posts for Advent!

Crying in the Wilderness – Sermon for Jubilee Baptist Church, December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12 (The Message)

Sermon:

John the Baptist certainly has a way of getting people’s attention. He’s kind of like that one cousin you don’t see much but whenever he shows up at a family reunion, it’s super awkward.

I mean, if a guy showed up who had been living in the wilderness for several years and he’s dressed in camel hair and eating bugs, I’d pay attention to what he had to say too. John tells all the people coming out to see him that he’s not just there for their entertainment.

And I love how The Message paraphrases this as “Thunder in the desert.” If a thunderstorm happens in the desert, that will probably get our attention because nobody expects storms in the desert (much like nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition…). John the Baptizer shows up like that and he says: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here…”

John the Baptist comes to us as “a voice crying out in the wilderness…” This is a cry of desperation for folks to pay attention. There is a sense of urgency here. A call to action—a change in behavior based on what’s to come.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that position where you were so desperate for something to change, that you kept persisting—maybe even shouting for people to pay attention. John’s proclamation is a disruption of the norms. It is meant to draw attention—to protest the status quo. He is introducing something different.

This seems odd. This seems mysterious and maybe that’s the point. Something…or rather, Someone is coming and we can’t just sit around and wait. But advent is all about waiting, right? Waiting for something to happen. But I wonder, if in that waiting, we often end up passive instead of actively preparing for what’s to come while we wait for the next thing.

John’s very presence in the middle of the wilderness seems odd. To many, he is a spectacle. People flocked to the desert just to hear him but they didn’t really “hear” him—not in a way that mattered. Because it wasn’t enough to be listening to or reading the right things if it didn’t lead to changed behavior.

Luke’s Gospel paraphrase’s Isaiah 40 when it talks about John’s message: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4-6)

If love is the theme of the second Sunday of advent how to we get that from John’s message? Is love just a nice feeling we have or something we love to achieve in our lifetime? Or is it something we pursue after instead of waiting for it to happen?

In addition to John’s message of change, he also says: “Make the road smooth and straight…” If you’ve ever been hiking in the mountains, or even on some of the trails around here, you know the path can often be winding and hilly, with roots and rocks. There are many obstacles in the way. John says, “Clear out all the obstacles on the path.” God is coming to us.

While Israel is waiting to be delivered from their oppressors—the Roman Empire—John the Baptist tells them things are about to change. But not in the ways that they expect.

I spent the whole month of November discussing Gender on Sunday mornings. Those of you who came know it was often an interesting and sometimes intense discussion as we learned how to be a more inclusive community for trans and non-binary people. During our last lesson on the bible and gender, someone asked me, “Do you think things will change with time?”  What they meant by that is, do you think we as a society will become more accepting of trans people as the younger generations grow up? And I think that’s a fair question but while we are waiting for things to change, we can actively be making change. Change is happening in the here and now and in the not yet. The kindom of God is here and we may be waiting but we are also acting as God moves in the world.

John the Baptist tells his audience that Someone is coming who is greater than I am and if you’re paying attention to me, you’d better pay even more attention to who is coming after me.

Sarah Bessey writes in her blog post titled “Does Advent even matter when the world is on fire:

“It’s because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent. It’s because we have stood in hospital rooms and gravesides, empty churches and quiet bedrooms that we resolutely lay out candles and matches.

We don’t get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First, we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.

Advent matters, because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open even in the midst of our grief and longing.”

Often this time of year is difficult for so many of us who have experienced loss and rejection. It is usually a time of grief for those we’ve lost throughout the years or of painful memories because of what once was or never was. For me, it’s difficult because I can’t spend the holidays with my family in the way I want because they don’t accept all of who I am as a person. For my wife and so many others, it’s because of losing loved ones. Hope can come in surprising ways. It can come through creating new, joyful traditions that rise up and can look like creating a different type of family. For Amy and I, it involves lots of Legos and spending time with each other and our chosen family and friends.

John the Baptizer brings some hope in the midst of the chaos. He tells Israel, “Repent for the kindom of heaven is near.” Hope is coming even while you are in the midst of despair that hope may never arrive when you need it. Hope is coming whether you are ready for it or not.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. And it certainly doesn’t happen without action. “Well, guess we just have to wait for the oppressors to stop oppressing us…” Stop waiting for things to change on their own. Sometimes, you have to clear a path in the desert and change which direction you’re going even when those who have all the power refuse to do anything.

I’m sure many of you have heard the story of Scott Warren, an activist with the organization No More Deaths who left food and water in the desert for immigrants trying to cross the border into the U.S. seeking asylum. Scott Warren, according to the News and Observer piece written by Elana Schor says: “The case of Scott Warren, a college instructor and volunteer with a humanitarian group that helps migrants, gained nationwide notice as he challenged what he called government’s ‘attempt to criminalize basic human kindness.’ Much of that attention focused on Warren’s acquittal on felony charges of harboring [migrants].” At the end of the day, the courts ruled in Warren’s favor but it’s getting harder and harder to do the right thing in situations like this without “breaking the law” because the laws are constantly changing to suit the current administration’s whims.

I’m going to be honest, I don’t feel very hopeful right now when I look at what’s going on in our world. It all seems rather hopeless. My professor Dr. Miguel De la Torre refers to this as a “theology of hopelessness.” Hopelessness not out of despair but of desperation. Desperation because when I look around me I see children locked in cages, families separated at the border, refugees forced to flee from their homes, queer kids rejected by their families, black kids being murdered by the police, and an earth that is literally on fire because of climate change.

If I kept going, this list would become its own sermon of injustice perpetuated against other human beings, creatures, and the world we live in.

But I am hopeful because I also see something else. I see love. I see a community of faith taking care of one another, relieving one another’s debts. I see divinity students working hard to reclaim theology that has often harmed others. I see memes on the internet about Baby Yoda.

The holidays are hard for so many people, but I see chosen family stepping up and caring for each other when biological family often disappoints or hurts us. I look around me and I see devastation but I also look around and see new life coming out of that devastation.

Kaitlin Curtice notes in her most recent blog post: “We wait and wait for the next season to come, and when it does, we forget how magical it is. We forget that the leaves changing and falling are teaching us something every day about the way things work, perhaps about magic, perhaps about love. We are still learning to love and honor the earth’s ways, and we are still learning to love and know ourselves.” (“Let’s Acknowledge Our Holiday Tensions” – December 1, 2019)

There are many voices crying in the wilderness for things to change. The question is, are we willing to listen and then do something about it. The kindom of God is here right now. May we be active in the midst of our waiting. And sometimes, when the laws are unjust, may you leave water in the desert.

samhain

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This year I observed Samhain, the pagan holiday between autumnal and winter equinox that is meant to focus on death, remembering lost loved ones, and letting go of old things.

Prayers on Samhain

I am here to honor the memory of my wife’s parents.

Mary Jane Brown, who I only knew at the end of her life when she was not present in her body. 

Kenny Brown, who I never met in this life but I feel as if I met him through knowing my wife.

I remember my first childhood dogs, Precious and Freckles who got me through a lot of emotional times and lived long lives. 

We remember the 49 who were killed at the Pulse Nightclub. I remember Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Matt Shepard and Leila Alcorn and so many other queer saints who were taken from us too soon.

Lastly, I am here to remember my old life and mourn the childhood I never had as a queer person. It’s not something I can get back but it is something I want to honor. My childhood was one of religious trauma, abuse, and suppression of who I really was. So, I am going to try to recreate what I always wanted in the present. That creative, quirky free spirit deserves to live free.

Holly Louise Holder, I release who you were. You never go tot be who you wanted to be. But now I want to let go and breathe new life. And take on a new name in this new year of harvest and rebirth from the dead things all around me. Let us lean into that new life as H.L. Holder-Brown.

I’m letting go of the past that was Holly and becoming HL Holder-Brown. My new life is just beginning and I am grateful to live it in community with others and with my wife. 

raising hell

“If you couldn’t tell, we can always find the trouble. We don’t need no help. Mama raised me well. But I don’t want to go to heaven without raising hell. 

Can I get an amen? This is for the misfits of creation. Take this as your holy validation. You don’t need to hide your celebrating. This is our salvation.” ~ Raising Hell, Kesha

John 2:1-12 (NRSV) 

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.”

I often think of Halloween as a sort of coming out experience for myself. I recently got to preach at Life’s Journey UCC on Queer Joy as Resistance for their Pride celebration, so I thought I’d share that here. And also my halloween costume this year seems fitting, too.

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Sermon “Queer Joy As Resistance” 

What I love about this story in the gospel of John is that it is Jesus’ first miracle. And it’s a bit of an odd story if you think about it. Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding, but as more of an afterthought. The text tells us: “Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding, but the first person mentioned at this wedding is Mary, who is simply identified by her association with her son as “the mother of Jesus.” Mary may not be mentioned by name here, but clearly, she’s calling the shots in this particular story. 

So, when the wine “gave out,” and she tells Jesus “they have no more wine,” he responds in what often rubs folks the wrong way: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come…” I don’t think Jesus means any disrespect here. Actually, this is a very human response. As in, this isn’t my problem yet, Mom. But also, I’m sure you are all familiar with the phrase: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?

And of course, Mary who knows her son so well says: “Do whatever he tells you…”

When Jesus queers the water and turns it into wine, this first recorded miracle in the Gospel of John is one of celebration. Not only does Jesus turn the water into wine, the chief steward at the wedding says “You have kept the good wine until now.” This isn’t just water turned to wine; this is the good stuff. Many queer interpretations of this text view this as Jesus’ way of coming out by performing his first public miracle. 

Queer celebration is often one of both joy and resistance. Resistance against oppression that has often told us that we do not belong in certain spaces–especially churches because our love is seen as a curse instead of a gift that we can bring to the church. 

On the morning of my wedding, I got up early to tell my now-wife, Amy goodbye as she went to run the Tarheel 10 Miler. While she was running, I went back to sleep for another hour and then got up because I needed to finish writing my vows for the ceremony that would occur later that afternoon in our own backyard. We had rented chairs, purchased flowers, and even put together our own arbor from Lowe’s as a sort of DIY wedding because we value simple, beautiful things. And because, while we met at the church we were attending at the time, we were not permitted to get married in the church sanctuary. 

When I look back on that day almost two years later, I think, it couldn’t have gone any more perfectly. We had many of our chosen family there, a dear friend officiated the ceremony, and we got to celebrate later with many friends at our reception where there was a potluck meal, various types of alcohol, and dancing. You see, my wife and I know what it is to celebrate and be joyful but most often, this is because as queer people of faith, we have known pain and rejection instead of celebration. 

When we celebrate Pride, we are not saying that we are celebrating arrogance. But we are celebrating and resisting the things that have caused us death and harm. The first Pride was a protest first and foremost. Before we could celebrate, we had to survive. We are often still just trying to survive.

I think of Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who was one of the first to throw a brick in protest at Stonewall. Marsha was not afraid to celebrate who she was and fight back when she was not accepted. But later, she was murdered and her body dumped in a river because the world was not yet ready to celebrate her in her fullness and beauty. Marsha’s life and influence live on still today as we celebrate Pride each year because of what she and many others fought for.

The words of Lucille Clifton’s poem “Won’t You Celebrate with Me” are very fitting of Marsha’s life:

“won’t you celebrate with me 

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.”

When I think of the couple in the first text we read in Song of Solomon, I think of a forbidden love that they are willing to celebrate in spite of being told it’s not allowed. Queer love and sexuality often aren’t recognized. We are often denied celebration of our love. 

There are certain places my wife and I know not to hold hands in public. Or, depending on where we are, if someone asks if we are family, we often answer, ‘Oh we’re just friends’ because any other answer may lead to judgment or violence. This is something most straight couples don’t have to worry about.

Our love frequently will not be recognized in the media or in TV shows whereas heterosexual love is portrayed everywhere. In jewelry commercials, “Every kiss begins with K,” Hallmark movies, you name it, it’s everywhere.

So, when someone says, it’s ok to be gay but do you have to talk about it all the time? I respond: “Forgive me if I don’t shut up about my love for my wife. Because that has often been denied me.”

Our joy and resistance is so profound because of what we’ve had to fight for just to exist. Because, you cannot appreciate queer joy until you can appreciate queer grief. 

  • Not being able to celebrate or grieve publicly for example
  • Being invisible…
  • Having to keep a relationship, your sexuality, or your gender identity a secret for fear of being put in danger. Or because there is so much internalized shame. 
  • Losing so many in our community to suicide, or murder…
  • Or a mass shooting like at the Pulse Nightclub in 2016.
  • This is still a daily struggle for most queer people in public spaces. 
  • We can still be fired in the state of North Carolina for even the suspicion of being queer. 

We are often told in our process of coming out, “It gets better.” But often, it either gets worse before it gets better or for some, it never gets better because of rejection and violence. 

Today, I am so thankful that as a country, we can marry whomever we choose regardless of gender thanks to the marriage equality achieved in 2015. 

But also, I am saddened because some people fought so hard for that, and then stopped fighting. To this I say, we cannot stop fighting. Because trans women of color are still being murdered in the streets. Because I can be happily married to my wife, and don’t know whether it’s safe to talk about that happiness publicly. Because I have to use pronouns and a name that do not fit my gender identity for my own safety when I’m at my day job. 

Queer love is an act of resistance against the powers of this world that say we should not exist and that we should not celebrate who we are. This is a love to be celebrated, to be cherished, to be shouted from the rooftops because we haven’t always had the luxury of loving out loud. Of drinking wine in celebration at a wedding that used to be forbidden.

Pride means so much more to me than it did a few years ago. Some days it feels like we will never overcome all the oppression especially under this current political administration. But, when I see that glimmer of hope within the LGBTQ community, I know we will one day live in a world where we can be fully ourselves. Amen and amen.

my body is an island of love

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It’s been eight years.

Eight years since I saw you.

Eight years since you touched me in ways I didn’t want you to.

Eight years is a long time. And no time at all.

For you, I’m sure I was a blip in your radar, but for me, it has taken me this long to finally feel safe. And that’s on a good day.

I was a blip in your radar, but you were a wound that is becoming a scar that will never go away.

It will take me a lifetime to forget you because my body remembers you every day.

When we met, I already had a lifetime of trauma yet to be remembered. Yours was the trauma inflicted on my body that awoke something in me–a reminder that my body had never been my own.

For the first few years after I encountered you, I wished I didn’t even have a body.

If my body didn’t exist, maybe it wouldn’t remember the pain that it is to be invaded like a country with borders that have been colonized by yet another white man with an agenda.

You viewed me as something to be conquered.

And it was a lie.

I am not something to be conquered. I am Someone. Someone who deserves to be loved. Someone with a body that is now my own.

So, every year when the trauma washes on the shore of my body, I remind myself now–this land that is my body is mine to maintain and mine to love.

I am someone deserving of love.

You were a hurricane that left me shipwrecked at sea.

Today. Today I am an island surrounded by an ocean of love.

There are no more storms that can wash that away.

My body is an island of love.