The Dinner Party Before the Storm

 

April 7, 2020

Devotion written for Jubilee Baptist Church for Holy Week

John 12:1-11

It’s the Tuesday of Holy Week as I’m writing this. Last time we were with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Lazarus had just died. This time Jesus is hanging out with his friends, and as the writer of John notes, “Jesus came to Bethany the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.” In case anyone reading it forgot, John wants us to remember this detail. Oh, you remember Lazarus right? The guy Jesus raised from the dead! Yes, how could we forget. As if that weren’t strange enough, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and Judas Iscariot throws a hissy fit because the perfume is really expensive. Jesus is about to die (as he tells his disciples repeatedly) and Judas is worried about Mary’s spending habits. 

What I think is so interesting about this is that Jesus knows his death is near, and he lets his friends throw him a party that attracts the attention of the religious leaders and crowds because of Lazarus being alive again. And of course, the religious leaders want to kill not only Jesus but also Lazarus for attracting too much attention by being alive instead of dead. Oops. 

Holy Week is a time when we reflect on not just the life of Jesus but the week he was betrayed, murdered by the Romans, and miraculously comes back to life. It’s usually a time when we can gather together to reflect on the events that lead to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but these are strange times. These are “unprecedented times” as we’ve all heard way too many times on the news. I wish I could tell you it is all going to be better soon or offer a cliche of it will get worse before it gets better. 

Let’s be honest, these aren’t just unprecedented times, these are scary times. I look at this passage and see a celebration right before Jesus’ friends and disciples are grief stricken and either hiding or preparing his body for burial. They didn’t know what was going to happen next but they were making the best of it. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. We do know we’re a community that gets through things together even when we are apart. Perhaps I cannot say everything will be “back to normal” soon. I can say, whatever happens, you are not alone. Whatever this Holy Week brings, whatever else this pandemic brings, we are not alone. 

If You Had Been Here

Sermon for Lent, March 29, 2020, posted in the newsletter for Jubilee Baptist Church because COVID-194E13209F-05CF-4591-98EE-B32B245264F4

John 11:1-45

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.  So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Sermon:

If You Had Been Here

Reading about Lazarus in a time of self-isolation, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders takes on a new meaning. I’m sure by now everyone is so tired of hearing about COVID-19  and also so anxious to hear about it because it seems to be changing almost hourly.

I am also reading this through my experience as a queer, disabled, non binary human. 

How curious is it that Jesus, upon hearing that his friend Lazarus was sick, said “this sickness is not unto death…” even though Lazarus literally died. There’s also something comforting in Jesus referring to Lazarus’s death as sleep. Lazarus had found a way to rest after suffering with the sickness he had. 

Many a theologian and pastor has speculated about how Jesus waited four days to go see his sick friend. Some would say Jesus didn’t actually care, or that he only cared so that he could raise him from the dead to make himself look good. 

During a time when people are having to quarantine themselves for 14 days to stop the spread of the coronavirus, I have to wonder though…

Perhaps, this was Jesus’ way of showing how much he did care. By giving Lazarus time and space. 

Or…perhaps it is ok to give ourselves permission to be frustrated with how Jesus behaves. I’m with Martha and Mary on this one. Jesus could have done something and didn’t. 

I don’t know if y’all know this about me, but I’m an introvert. I’m an introvert and I’m also a hugger. We all need people. Sometimes though, what people need from us and the best way we can care for one another is to separate ourselves in order to keep each other safe. A lot of us know of people who are sick right now. It’s overwhelming and we can’t be with the people we love.

By the time Jesus DID go to see Lazarus, he wasn’t really there for Lazarus, he was there for Mary and Martha and held space for them to grieve while grieving the loss of his friend. Perhaps, you’re reading this passage and you’re feeling that Mary and Martha are right. 

Why wouldn’t Jesus do all he could to save his friend? Aren’t we doing that right now by self-isolating ourselves? Why wouldn’t Jesus–who can HEAL PEOPLE, save his friend? 

The fact that I’m writing this sermon to be read instead of for y’all to listen to is one of those ways of keeping each other safe. It’s hard to write or focus in the middle of a pandemic.

People are having a hard time finding groceries they need like bread, toilet paper, meds, fruits and veggies. I am so tired and wonder if I’ve already been sick and didn’t realize it. The virus has been here and now we can’t see it. Most of us don’t have resources to test for it. Several people don’t even have symptoms. But it just keeps spreading. 

If I focus on how bad it is, it gets too overwhelming. So, I’ve been trying to distract myself. It’s really hard to rest and with Amy here, I don’t feel like I can introvert as much. It does feel less lonely and that’s nice. I’ve been trying to read but the only things I’ve been able to focus on are children’s books. They’re whimsical even if they sometimes get too serious. I can’t focus on anything too serious. The world is already serious enough. 

Being genderqueer during a pandemic sure is one heck of a ride. Being queer during a pandemic, really. I keep thinking about all the people who had HIV/AIDS and the government did nothing. Because as long as it only affected gay people, it was fine. But as soon as it started affecting straight people, then it was a problem. 

What is it like to be dying, to meet Death head on but to come back from it? As a queer person, I know a little something about that. I thought when I came out a few years ago, it might kill me. But in the end, it was what brought me life even when my family and faith community at the time saw me as “sick.”

There are some things worse than dying, I think. One of them might be never getting to live as yourself and being bound to others’ views of you. In the words of Rev. Caleb Tabor,  “We know what it is to be dead…but better yet, we know what it is to be born again. We know what it is to rise up from death.” 

At the end of the day, Jesus showed up for his friends, and reminds us that death doesn’t have to be the end. Death doesn’t get the final say and we can walk with one another through death dealing times. Let us be the friends who show up when someone is sick and help where we can.And sometimes the way we show up is by staying home and flattening the curve.

 May we walk through death with one another, may we call to each other to “come out” and rise up from death into life.

P.S. I have a patreon now!

queering the apocalypse

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That’s right. This is the post I know y’all were waiting for.

The following is a series of thoughts that have gone through my head while we’ve been surviving both our government and COVID-19:

3/13/20

I never expected the apocalypse to feel so ordinary and tame while feeling simultaneously chaotic and panicked. The sunset is gorgeous tonight and yet the world is on fire with the COVID-19. And yet, we’re still having to do normal things. Like take showers, get dressed for work, work. Well, some of us are still having to work. We still have to do the dishes and wash our plants.We have to wash our hands. And then wash our hands again. Feed ourselves and our pets, our children. I never expected this ordinary chaos during a pandemic. All this normal feels insane. At a time like this, shouldn’t everything just stop? But perhaps, it’s because it doesn’t stop, that we can keep going. These normal everyday, “ordinary” things must keep going. We have to keep sleeping, waking up, going on walks at sunset. We have to keep talking to each other even while practicing social distance. What a time to be alive. 

3/17/20

One year ago today, my wife and I were at a Mumford and sons concert. 

Two years ago today we were at the Why Christian Conference held on Duke’s campus.

Today, Amy is working from home and I am off work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should I be writing? Should I not be writing? What does one write about in the midst of a global pandemic?

When the restaurants and bars have been ordered to close and do take-out only? 

I guess I will write about that. Also, this week: my debit card got hacked, we’re having issues with our plumbing, and my job refuses to close stores to keep people safe. Oh, and my sister told me she was 8 weeks pregnant yesterday. Amy is working from home today. And I wish I could work from home and get paid. But I can’t sell shoes here though. 

What a bizarre week. This is all so surreal. 

People are having a hard time finding groceries they need like bread and toilet paper, meds, and fruits and veggies. I am so tired and wonder if I’ve already been sick and didn’t realize it. The virus has been here and now we can’t see it or test for it. Several people don’t even have symptoms. But it just keeps spreading. 

If I focus on how bad it is, it gets too overwhelming. So, I’ve been trying to distract myself. It’s really hard to rest and with Amy here, I don’t feel like I can introvert as much. It does feel less lonely and that’s nice. I’ve been trying to read but the only things I’ve been able to focus on are children’s books. They’re whimsical even if they sometimes get too serious. I can’t focus on anything too serious. The world is already serious enough. 

Being genderqueer during a pandemic sure is one hell of a ride. Being queer during a pandemic, really. I keep thinking about all the people who had HIV/AIDS and the government did nothing. Because as long as it only affected gay people, it was fine. But as soon as it started affecting straight people, then it was a problem. 

Oh look. As long as it’s only affecting the disabled and elderly, it’s fine. But as soon as it affects the “healthy” and the rich and famous, then it’s a problem.

But still. Being Trans during a pandemic and having to get syringes for t shots at the pharmacy while others are panic shopping is super fun. 

3/19/20

Today in “this shit is way too real,” my company announced they are going to start laying people off but it is encouraged to “voluntarily” give up our jobs if we think we are high risk…or to just make it easier on them i guess. We’ll see where my job stands at the end of this week, I guess. 

It’s hard not to panic during times like these. It’s so hard. How does one even process it? How do we “make the best of it?” I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know if I’ll have a job by this time next week. Or if I’ll have it tomorrow. Who knows. 

it’s me HL.

Can you please tell

The customer who yelled

About the hand sanitizer

There is no more fucking hand sanitizer.

Thanks.

Sincerely,

A retail worker whose job won’t close the store yet

3/20/20 

The COVID-19 is taking my job. But I’m tired of it taking peoples’ lives when I could do something to help. 

As the disinfectant dries on the benches, counters, door knobs, the sink…

I don’t know what to do about my job. Do I give it up willingly? 

And dear reader, that’s what I did. I volunteered for temporary unemployment because I’m concerned about not only my own wellbeing but that of my wife and everyone else I interact with on a daily basis. It is not worth it. My company refuses to close my store, refuses to pay employees to stay home, refuses to give sick leave to part timers or pay them more.

I am both scared and settled.I didn’t think I was going to go out like this. But here we are. When a crisis arises, sometimes you just have to meet it and be fucking terrified. 

“Into your hands I commend my spirit.” 

A vaccine for coronavirus is at least a year out. This isn’t ending anytime soon. I don’t think we’ve hit the peak of this yet. And there are at least 30 cases in Durham County alone. We’re “winning” over Wake County.  

I’m just going to keep writing about how crazy this shit is. Someone has to. In all the chaos, there’s still some normalcy. Amy and I still watched Grey’s Anatomy last night. We cooked dinner together and we’ve been taking walks in the evenings with Shadow. There’s some sense of “normal.” So, we keep doing what we do but we don’t keep going where we go. Because social distancing.

I’ve been listening to NPR during the days I’ve had to be at work this week which includes today. They’re interviewing Dr. Jane Goodall for Science Friday and it’s very soothing. Hearing about her work with the chimpanzees and the environment. Taking care of the rainforests and the animals she realized everything is interconnected. “We all have a role to play.”

I feel like Jesus flipping tables every time a customer comes in the door because clearly people do not understand social distancing.

Me: That’s quite close enough, I’m backing away now. 

3/23/20

Unemployed in Greenland

Yesterday I applied for unemployment and it took me only 20 minutes. Everything feels surreal and I feel strangely calm in the middle of a pandemic. All I can think about is that moment in Princess Bride when Vizzini tells Fezzik “Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed in Greenland??”

Anyway, I have a patreon now and this is sort of thing I’ve been writing about if anyone is interested in supporting me! ( https://www.patreon.com/wallflowerinfj )

only choose righteous fights

“Only Choose Righteous Fights” – Senator Elizabeth Warren

I’ve spent my whole life being told who to vote for. Finally, when I became a progressive, I thought I would be freed from that. I was wrong. One thing I’ve learned is that no matter how much I try to fight for those with less privilege than myself and choose the “right” candidate they will always ALWAYS be flawed.

There hasn’t been one candidate in this race that I didn’t have some issue with. Originally, Julian Castro was my favorite with Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a close second. Once Castro had to drop out of the race, Warren became my top choice. Give me the politics of Castro, with Warren’s plans and charisma, and Sanders’ passion for healthcare reform and for workers.

Give me a world where it’s possible to hold all of that in tension and make the best decision for myself. Without attacking myself and others when we make the “wrong” choice” or pick the “wrong” candidate. I can tell you that Warren’s campaign definitely sent me way too many emails and text messages but it’s that same persistence that I valued. 

Today I’m so sad because Elizabeth Warren was possibly my favorite presidential candidate since I’ve been able to vote. Her campaign gave me and so many others hope. We believed in her plans and her commitment to getting things done. We still do. Regardless of presidency, I value that Senator Warren will continue to get things done. In spite of the sexism that she had to endure, in spite of online harassers attacking her and telling us that we were on the wrong side. I feel like suddenly, I should know better than to hope. We hoped in 2016 and I supported Bernie Sanders. We hoped beyond hope that perhaps Hillary Clinton could be the nominee to beat Trump. We kept hoping and our hopes got dashed.

This hope seems to now be crushed by those in our own party as I watch Warren, Biden, and Sanders supporters bite each others’ heads off on social media. 

Let me tell you about hope. I get to keep that hope today. And every day. I choose to hope beyond all goddamn sense in a world that is better than the world we live in. I will support whoever the Democratic nominee is because I keep hoping we can undo some of the damage of the current administration. But don’t expect me to move on quickly without being sad that once again, this country has decided we’d rather have mediocre white men (yes, I mean Biden) leading us than powerful, competent women who had to drop out of the race.  Elizabeth Warren fucking deserved better than this.

“Choose to fight only righteous fights” She said. And God, I’m so tired but I believe it with my whole being. “Choose to fight only righteous fights” may become a new mantra for me in the year of our Lord 2020.

While I strongly disagree with Biden and align more with Sanders, ultimately, I will support whoever the nominee is. Because when I’d rather have Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker leading this thing, in the end Obi Wan Kenobi is our only hope. We all just want to beat Darth Vader.

To My Dear Mother

My mom’s birthday was February 15th. I haven’t known what to say to her but I guess this is it.

To My Dear Mother,

I am so very tired all the time. Struggling to exist in a world that deems you invisible can be exhausting. Sometimes I want to be ignored because that means at least you’re leaving me alone. I prefer to be unbothered but sometimes all I ever wanted was to be loved without conditions. 

You taught me how to make the most of being poor. I grew up eating Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and pudding cups because I was a picky eater. And because it was all you could get me to eat. And because it was cheap. Hey, at least I was eating. I remember going to Burger King, Or McDonalds, Or Chickfila occasionally and that was always a special treat. Going out to eat was a luxury. 

Sometimes all you wanted to do was just go to the grocery store without three small children in tow but most of the time you didn’t have a choice. You would drag us along with you. We would help select groceries and you would bribe us with candy if we behaved and listened well. This was our ritual. We didn’t know we were poor. 

You somehow managed to keep that a secret. With WIC and coupons as much as possible. Cooking meals at home and begging your picky eaters to eat what you cooked. By picky eaters I mostly mean me and I’m sorry for that. You took care of our basic needs as best you could even though your life didn’t prepare you for motherhood in the ways it should have. 

You created a life that was better for us than it was for you. But dear mother, you could only work with the tools you were given. Dear mother, you were abused too. You had a father and mother who fought. A father who was controlling and angry all the time. A mother who was scared all the time. And you grew up way too fast. So did I. You looked to me for guidance in your parenting. Were you too harsh on my sisters and I when I misbehaved, you asked? Were you doing a good job? Constantly looking for affirmation from your oldest child when you needed that from your husband who, while kinder than your father, was still that authority in your life. 

I am sorry for any grief I have caused you in this life. I have only wanted to be myself and escape a miserable life that was waiting for me if I stayed where you were. You could only work with the tools that you were given but what if you had new ones? What if you could escape too. What if you could be yourself without judgment or control? I wonder who you would be then. My dear mother, I love you and I’m thankful for you. You have done the best you could with the tools you were given and you have loved your family well. 

You taught me to love Jesus and I still do. That will never change. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Jesus loves me as I am and I hope that one day you will come to accept and love me as I am too. Until then just know that I love you very much.

Love,

HL

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.