After the Parade

After the Parade

Pride was a beautiful, powerful, heartbreaking, exuberantly fun experience all rolled into one. It is, indeed, the opposite of shame, and that is beautiful to behold.

Some impressions…

Forty-nine pictures going by, each with a name and an age on it. Too young, all of them.

The protesters themselves. While I have known few believers who would adopt their big signs and bullhorns tactics, I have known many who would promote their message. At one time, I agreed with it myself (though it never sat easy with me). I believe they believe every word, and it breaks my heart.

The gratitude and amazement on faces because for love’s sake we choose to stand in that space, in front of the people saying the vilest, most hateful things for the whole four hour parade.

The power of humor to diffuse a volatile situation. From the man who simply holds a neon colored arrow sign marked “Secretly Gay” pointed at the protesters all day, to the double entendre of #MakeLoveLouder, laughter was a clear relief to many in the wake of Pulse and in the face of loathing.

PFLAG. They make me cry. Parents who fight for their kids. Parents who’ve too often had to fight their communities and churches (and sometimes even themselves) to love their kids.

The other group that gets to me are the churches who march. There are so many of them — a sea of signs. Too many to read all of them as they go by. A stunningly beautiful problem.

The beautiful strength of friends who’ve fought (still fight) their own varieties of battles to live love with integrity — with all of who they are. They fight for others even when it costs them.

In the midst of all the “F— you”s directed at the protesters, just how many of the parade participants, with tears in their eyes and pain on their faces, made heart symbols with their hands and shouted “We still love you!”

It was a beautiful, powerful, heartbreaking, exuberantly fun experience all rolled into one.

And then I had to come down from it.

Friends all had obligations elsewhere, and as I walked down the crowded Boystown streets by myself, I struggled with feelings I’d been wrestling with ever since the Pulse shooting.

This is a community I own as family, and yet in so many ways, I don’t belong to it. I’m a white, cisgender, heteronormative woman. I’ll never know what it is to fear rejection because of who I could love — do love. I don’t know what it’s like to never feel physically or emotionally safe just being myself in public. I’ll never know what it is to fight against hating the part of myself that loves and desires. Not the way LGBTQ+ friends do. For all of the sideways ways I can relate to all those things, it’s not the same.

And yet.

I love this community. I love the way they make family. I love the way they fight to live wholly as who they are with integrity. I love the way they defy shame with love. I love that I can be myself with them in a way I’ve rarely been with people “like me.”

But walking down Halstead, I was so aware that for all that these spaces feel like home, they are not my spaces. At least not yet, and I’m not sure how much they ever can or should be.

I felt very much in between.

But it was Pride. And as I walked along a tree lined side street, a young man passing by in a group of friends stopped short and said, “Oh my God, you’re beautiful! Can I give you a hug?” He gave me a sweet, sweaty hug and went on his way.

I walked on smiling, nothing resolved but everything affirmed. Especially love. I can’t imagine that happening with such innocent, exuberant joy anywhere else. And for all my in betweenness, there’s nowhere else I’d rather call home.

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Outside the Lines

Outside the Lines

I picked up a book.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve stumbled upon a book that somehow shifted everything, but it is the most recent.

I’d enjoyed reading Anne Lamott and Kathleen Norris for years, and somewhere came across a reference to a small “genre” of authors – liberal-literary-women-who-convert-to-Christianity-unexpectedly – that included the name of Sara Miles alongside theirs. So I picked up her memoir, Take This Bread, at the library, and as I read it, something shifted.

I couldn’t articulate it any better at the time – this book was changing things for me, but I couldn’t tell you what or how.

Sara was raised by two atheist Christian missionary kids in a home so staunchly secular that all she knew about Jesus was that he was a good man who some people thought was God.

After an amazing journey in its own right (read the book!), she finds herself passing an interesting church building on a walk in her San Francisco neighborhood and impulsively decides to go inside.

A service is in progress, and as bread is passed, it comes to her and she puts a piece in her mouth. She says she immediately knew three things: there is a God, his name is Jesus, and he was in her mouth. And no amount of sleeping on it or trying to argue herself out of it could change that knowledge.

It changed her life, ultimately leading her to a ministry of feeding the poor, both physically and spiritually.

It’s a stunningly powerful conversion story, with years of subsequent fruitfulness.

And I had to decide what to do with it, because Sara has a wife.

What do we do when we encounter God coloring outside the lines we believe God drew?

I didn’t know what to do with it all intellectually or theologically at the time, but I could not – would not – deny the fruit of the Spirit I could see so clearly evidenced in Sara’s life.

It led me on a journey of questions, and ultimately into a community of LGBTQ friends in whose lives I saw the Holy Spirit at work first hand. The depth of their faith in the face of often deeply difficult circumstances humbled me. Many have had to face incredibly painful words and actions from Christian family and churches, and yet they still follow Jesus. Their faith is hard won and deep.

I eventually came to realize that the challenge of God coloring outside the lines was not new to me.

In the earliest years of the church, one of the most prominent Jesus followers had a dream.

His name was Peter, and in his dream he saw a huge sheet being lowered down from heaven with all kinds of animals in it. A voice told him, “Kill and eat!”

But Peter was a Jew, and these were animals no Jew would eat – they’d been commanded not to eat them centuries before, and following those commands were a deep part of Jewish identity. So Peter protested, as any faithful Jew would, that of course he would have nothing to do with these “unclean” animals.

Maybe Peter thought the dream was a test of his faithfulness. If so, he got a surprise.

Instead of commending him on his knowledge of the scriptures and upright living, the voice replied, “Do not call unclean what I have made clean.” (The story may be found in Acts 10:9 – 11:18.)

I’m happy to use this story to bless my bacon-wrapped shrimp, but there’s far more going on here.

Peter is about to encounter some unclean, unacceptable Gentiles whom the Holy Spirit is going to descend upon just as he has the Jewish followers of Jesus. God is getting ready to color outside the lines Peter thought God drew, and Peter is going to have to decide what to do with that.

What defines the work of God in the world? In people? Is it the rules previously given? Is it rules at all? Can Peter allow his holiest categories to be shattered?

He gets the message – “Don’t call unacceptable those whom I have accepted.”

I got the message, and it blew my world wide open.

Standing In Between

Standing In Between

This wasn’t supposed to be that post.

That post is already written, waiting for the right time.

But this is the post I have to write. It wasn’t supposed to be that post.

When I woke up early Sunday the 12th to the news that someone had walked into a gay night club in Orlando on Latin night and shot over a hundred people, my first thought was, that could have been us – the friends I went to a club in Chicago’s Boystown with just a few weeks ago. It could have been any number of friends and neighbors on any night in any one of those clubs.

It felt like something I, a white cisgender heteronormative woman, have no justification to feel – it felt like my family was under attack.

And I wanted to stand in between.

It was later in the day on Sunday that a friend from college told me he’d lost someone he cared about at Pulse. It brought a flood of memories and emotions, particularly of one week when the Christian university we attended required all students to attend daily services in which a member of my own family preached against “homosexuals” and told sensationalist stories about the gay community and the gay “lifestyle.” It was the era of AIDS, and these were evils ready to consume us all.

My friend sat through those services, too, and I can only imagine what that felt like to him.

We sowed so much poison, and we have been reaping it’s rotten fruit for decades.

Chicago’s Pride Parade is coming up this Sunday, and some of my friends will be there under the tag line MakeLoveLouder. They will be at the parade, standing on the sideline between the “God Hates F—-” protesters and the parade.

It will be a risky place to stand, between the sowers of hate and a parade of people who’ve had to fight for the freedom to say who they are, to love who they love, to even exist. Especially this year.

I will be there with them. Standing in between.

A friend of mine says that whenever you draw a line in the sand between you and another person, you’ll find Jesus on the other side of it.

Most of my life I’ve felt like I was standing between different perspectives, trying to bridge them, to at least translate.

But sometimes violence is flying across those lines, in the form of both bullets and words. And sometimes you need to stand in between.

Build a Bigger Table

Build a Bigger Table

“To be open to the world is a dangerous way to live.It threatens us with learning things we’ve always been taught to reject.

What we don’t know, we are inclined to fear.

Embalmed in sameness, we lose opportunity to grow into what life means to become…

Hospitality of the heart is what makes the world a tender and lovely place to be.”

-Joan Chittister

Since I’ve moved into the city, I’ve come to appreciate ride shares. Sometimes paying for an Uber or Lyft is both safer than the train late at night, and better than trying to find a parking spot in my neighborhood.

Tonight was just such a night, and my Lyft driver and I started to talking about Chicago and how long we’ve called it home. A refugee from Iraq, he’s only been here two weeks. He told me that back in Iraq, the military police had thrown him in jail when he’d done nothing wrong, until the American soldiers came and freed him. He received refugee status, and an American bureaucrat told him he should get out of Iraq in the meantime. He went to Jordan and waited years to get visas for his family – eight younger brothers and their parents. Now they are here, together.

I told him welcome, that I was glad he was here, and that most all of us in America had gotten here as refugees of some sort originally. He reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for, and I’m happy he can now share in most of those blessings.

Hospitality is a theme that has threaded my journey in sometimes surprising ways. It comes in so many forms – far more than throwing a good party (though that is a form I especially love!).

But maybe true hospitality begins with simple openness to an “other.” With staying with a conversation through language disconnects. With being willing to be uncomfortable, to be stretched and challenged.

An ethic of hospitality has many applications for me, but one of them is very simple:

“When you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence.”

A table big enough for the alien and stranger, the refugee, and outcasts of every stripe.

This is something that goes much deeper than politics, though as we see in this election cycle, it certainly has political implications.

And it is, as Sister Joan Chittister has said, “a dangerous way to live.” You may discover you were wrong about things you never thought to question, and that knowledge cannot be undone.

Hospitality will, sooner or later, undo you. But out of what has come undone, it will make a bigger table.

 

Saving Up

FeaturedSaving Up

Tonight it hit me squarely for the first time – how many years have I spent saving my living up for later?

I was raised in a wonderfully loving and deeply conservative family and community. There are tensions in that combination that can be hard to hold together, but when it’s all you know, you don’t notice them. They taught me to hold on to what’s good, but I also learned to avoid what might be risky. The good things had to be protected from any possible taint. It was a “purity culture” that went well beyond sex. Every choice – even among things that weren’t “bad” – had ramifications for the rest of my life (and eternity), so I had to avoid anything that might compromise my future marriage, vocation, calling, or ministry. If I spent a choice on a date, or piercing my ears, or even my college and major, it might limit the good God could use me to do. So I saved up. I made safe choices.

I began choosing to stop that savings plan in a big way a few years ago, somewhere in the fallout of turning 40. Half my life (if I’m lucky) is gone, and I wanted – needed – something to change. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I’ve never found other words to express the reality I was experiencing: I was slowly dying. Getting smaller. Fading out. There was just…less of me.

And I didn’t – wouldn’t – believe that was all God had for me in this life. I began to think maybe he wasn’t actually waiting for my faith to mature enough, or for “his perfect timing.” Maybe, while I was “waiting on him” as faithfully as I knew how, trying my best not to make a step that might endanger his will for my life, maybe God wasn’t waiting at all.

Maybe God was doing his thing in the world – giving love, creating beauty, and making peace, as my friend Frank Schaeffer would say – and what I needed to do was get out there and find his stuff and dig into all the messy goodness of it.

It didn’t happen overnight – not quite – but it did happen fast enough to leave the heads of a lot of people spinning. It left my head spinning (ten first dates in three weeks can do that!). But every new place I found myself turned out to be grounded in years of lessons gleaned, painful pruning, and hard-won trust. In the unfamiliar I kept seeing Jesus. I had never felt more disoriented in my life, and at the same time, I had never felt more grounded, more connected with who I was made to be.

Sometimes life gives us choices that change everything. They may be as small as picking up a book or choosing to accept that invitation to tag along with a friend to dinner and meet new people, or as big as walking away from a church and community of people you’ve sunk roots in with.

I’ve spent the past few years making those choices without knowing where they might take me. The journey is far from over, but they’ve already taken me to some amazing places and alongside some amazing people who’ve changed me. They’ve cracked my world open, and colors I never imagined have flooded in. Bracing winds and warming sunlight have both found deep places in my heart, and I’ve felt those places bloom open in response.

I plowed through the fear, and its echoes are fading. I’ve preached. I’ve danced. I’ve dated. I’ve leaned out an open door 99 floors up with nothing between me and the world but the wind.

I’ve stopped saving up my living and have found that as I spend it, there always seems to be more than I started with – more than I even knew was possible.

I know there are some who may read this and feel the resonance, like the tone of a bell.

Some may read this and think I’m deceived or deluded. That’s okay. You could be right. I might be missing the Kingdom of God altogether. But according to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is going to look at least a bit absurd and messy with grace to us, full of all sorts of questionable characters. I’ll be grateful if I find myself among them, and in the meantime, I intend to love indiscriminately, run towards every glimpse of beauty, and seek shalom with everything in me.

And I’m going to do my best to exhaust those stockpiles of living I’ve been saving up.

-JEO