Intimacy in the time of Pandemic

I had yet to contemplate the intimacy of a bus ride with 50 strangers, until now

the intimacy of sharing door knobs and restaurant tables and gas pumps and park benches with millions of people I will never meet face to face.

Everyday, I take a part of them with me

No, let me be more direct-

Let me be more…

Intimate

Every day, I take a part of you with me

I breath you deep into my lungs

and then I breath you out and someone else breaths you in

This is an intimacy, that most of the time, goes unnoticed,

until now

What a wild ride to be spinning around space with you all!

All 7 billion of you, on a planet

held in perfect tension between the moon and the sun

Gravity!

but not too much and not too little

Temperature!

but not too hot and not too cold (for now)

It is this perfect placement, after all, that allows hydrogen and oxygen, which allows water, which allows organisms, which allows amoebas, and fish, and skunks, and possums, and elephants, and dogs and trees and my four month old baby 

and…a four month old virus, sweeping the globe

What will we do with the knowledge of this intimacy?

What vows can I possibly make to you all and to our one, perfect planet?

Between Vengeance and Forgiveness- Reactions to Goshen College’s apology to Katie Sowers and LGBTQ alumni

My wife recently said to me, “It kinda seems like Mennonites always want to tie a bow on everything. Why can’t things just be uncomfortable?” This got me thinking about Mennonites and our history of seeking consensus. It also got me thinking about Christianity, in general, particularly the Christianity that has been practiced alongside empire is theologically grounded in a singular truth that Jesus is the only path to salvation. There is heaven and there is hell and you are going to one or the other based on your “acceptance of Jesus Christ into your heart”… whatever that means.

In the past few years I have found myself increasingly drawn towards Jungian Analytic theory and Judaism. While both Jungian theory and Judaism have their problematic edges and struggles with heteronormativity and homophobia, I find them to be containers for my ongoing healing. I have realized that this is because both have strong teachings around holding the tension of opposites. In my brief purview into Talmudic studies, the thing that sticks out to me is the strong opinions and arguments of the Rabbis and sages that expand out into the margins of each page. Without even knowing Hebrew or Aramaic, the tension is felt.

At a recent Jungian training, Dr. Sam Kimbles, a black Jungian analyst who specializes in cultural complexes, urged us to be mindful of collapsing into polarities, as we began to open up to content around othering as it pertained to the racist history and current status of racism in America. The tension in the mixed race group was explicitly acknowledged. The hatred that was lurking in each of psyches was held alongside our care, love and interest in “the other” as we approached the deeply traumatic content.

There is no comparison between the black American experience and the LGBTQ experience. These are different oppressions and constellate very differently with different impacts. However, Dr. Sam Kimbles framework around working with the other and the ways in which I have internalized polarities, has been profoundly helpful as I continue to heal from the trauma of being a queer person in a Mennonite context. 

In the past two weeks there has been much talk about Katie Sowers and her history of being denied a coaching position at Goshen College. As a result Goshen issued an apology and as a result LGBTQ Mennonites and allies had a myriad of reactions, spanning from the edges of vengeance to the edges of forgiveness. This makes sense. Growing up LGBTQ, in a Mennonite context (and many other contexts) is traumatic. Trauma, especially when experienced prior to adulthood, almost always causes splits in the psyche and the varying ways that people reacted, shows the intense fragmentation that has resulted from this collective and personal trauma.

I want to honor that each reaction has a place and is valid. I have been on all ends of the spectrum, myself. Prior to the apology, I definitely said in my therapy session that day, “Fuck Goshen College! How dare they try to claim her, without acknowledging the harm and of course the article they posted does not mention in the headline that she is a lesbian, just a woman, FUCK THEM!” This reaction was real. This reaction was valid.

Later that day, I opened up facebook and saw that Goshen College had issued an apology. I was shocked that in that split second, I actually teared up and I felt some sense of relief. It’s the type of relief that I feel from my 3 month old baby, when her system settles aand she lets out a deep breath. This reaction was real and this reaction was valid. And, it completely surprised me. I had no idea that an acknowledgement and an apology was going to impact me in that way. 

However, when I read peoples criticism about the apology, I wondered if I had had the wrong reaction. I wondered if I was weak or if I would be perceived as weak, or fluffy or pollyanna or that touchy feely therapist out in California. I immediately felt ashamed and self-conscious. As these feelings washed over me, I wondered about this drive inside of me for consensus amongst my Mennonite Queers and how Christian Hegemony was still running through my veins, pushing me towards coming to a single truth and finding the right reaction.

What I know is what I felt when I read the apology. It had an impact, but I think that the impact has more to do with me than with the apology itself. Something inside of me was desperate for this relief. Something inside of me wanted to feel it because something inside of me wants to unburden itself. This reaction directs me towards healing.

But don’t get too excited you straight, white, pacifist Mennonites ready to tie that bow… because, the part of me that still says, “Fuck you, Goshen!” also directs me towards healing. One response is not better than the other. In fact, had I not been feeling the intensity of my vengeance, I would not have been able to feel the sweetness and the relief of my tears.

I am not in the business of thanking systems of oppression for the ways they have shaped me. This feels like too much of a collapse into forgiveness. But I am deeply grateful for the resilience and creativity of the human psyche. I know that my experience as a queer and a queer Mennonite has shaped me beyond belief. My experience as a youth, as it relates to my sexuality and gender, feels like a tense pressure cooker. Yes, dysfunction arose from this experience and continues to haunt me in many ways, but it also birthed so much ingenuity. It made me into a writer with something to say, a singer-songwriter hell bent on conveying authentic melodies and lyrics and a therapist deeply concerned with the wondrous nature of the human soul and psyche.

I wanted to share my experience and drop it into the pan of all the other responses from my brilliant Menno or ex-Menno queers and allies. Our myriad of responses certainly don’t leave us feeling as if a holiday or gift wrapped bow has been tied around this story…those types of bows are too constraining for our fabulousness, anyway. The colors and shades of all our different responses and unique paths towards healing create something else. The space we hold in the tension between vengeance and forgiveness might look more like a, dare I say…rainbow? (I couldn’t help myself).

Ode to my Hatred

Hate.

My sweet, sweet hatred.

I was told that I could not have you

So, naturally, I wanted you more

Longings turned into cravings that turned into ravenous shadows that collapsed into

Perhaps…

The monster under my childhood bed? 

The scary eyes I was sure I saw in the bedroom window?

The suicidal ideations in my teenage brain?

Hate.

My sweet, sweet hatred

Where are you now?

Are you in my headaches?

My restless nights?

My irritable bowel syndrome?

or worse yet

The one who has been deemed “other”?

or worse yet

The President of the United States?

Are you locked in my looping thoughts of why he or she or they did what they did?

Or are you in my more secret and seductive fantasies…

The ones that play out all the subtle and not so subtle ways that I might have told that ex or that racist man on the subway or that self-righteous homophobe at the Mennonite conference to go fuck themselves? (No, hatred, I never said it…much to your dismay)

Hate.

My sweet, sweet hatred

I just realized, that

I don’t even know what pronouns you prefer

Are you a this?

Are you a that? 

Are you both a this and a that?

Whatever you are and wherever you are, this I know for sure.

You are and have always been mine. 

All mine.

Love Your Enemies

The more I wanted to forgive you, the more I hated you

This was the twisted nature of my ethics

Obligation, desire and pain tied in intractable knots

 

I have an ancestor, real or imagined (it doesn’t matter) who saved his persecutor from drowning

He was subsequently captured

tied up

and burned alive

His choice became his daughter’s obligation

and the church’s doctrine

 

You see, I was told I must love my enemies  

So, I needed to find some enemies to love

 

This is why I loved you

and

This is why I hated you

 

I’m sorry it took me so long to tell you, that

Fortunately or unfortunately, it was never personal

How could it have been?

when

I never got to know you

 

Had I taken the time, I would have found out that

either

You are not and never were my enemy

In which case, I would love you

or

You were and you still are my enemy

In which case I would pity you

But I would not love you

 

 Because, I too am an ancestor

who has chosen

 To reserve my love for those who would never, ever

burn me alive

 

 

 

For more information on Dirk Willems, the man depicted in the above image https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirk_Willems

The Conversation

Setting: Addie is walking around the Cemetery, near their house…thinking deep thoughts, as they tend to do, when Jesus pops out from behind a Tree.

Me: Jesus! Oh, shit! (Jumping back, surprised) I didn’t see you there. 

Jesus: You okay? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost? (laughs, and smiles)

Me: Well… (laughs back and smiles) Actually, I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been pondering this question and wanted to ask you about it.

Jesus: Maybe I’m here because you’ve been pondering a question…ever think of that?

Me: oh! Right! You are omnipotent slash, you are a part of me…I get it. So, here’s my question. I was reading the Gospel of Luke and saw all these terrible things you said about the Pharisees, back in the day and…

Jesus: Oh, you saw that, huh? (puts his head in his hands, as if to indicate embarrassment)

Me: Is it true, Jesus? Did you say all those things? Please tell me you didn’t.

Jesus: Yes, Addie. (Sighs) Its true. Well, mostly true… and thats true enough.

Me: I just… I don’t understand! I’ve been going to Synagogue and studying Talmud and I’m marrying a Jewish person and I’ve learned that Judaism as it is known and practiced today links its roots to the Pharisees. Jesus, you called them “money loving” and a “band of vipers” for Christ’s sake! Do you know what’s happened, since then? The harm that’s been done, using your words?

Jesus: I do, Addie. I do. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t count the names. From the Crusades to the Holocaust, I count them, every day (he begins to cry)…my people, my loves…some of them were even my family. Not to mention all the non-Jews who’ve been harmed in my name.

Me: Why, Jesus?! Why did you do that?! Why did you say those things?!

Jesus: Oy. I knew this day was coming…when you’d ask me a question like this. Remember when you used to ask me easy questions like. “Jesus, am I gay?”and “Jesus, will you and my family still love me if I’m gay?” Those were the days, right Addie? Just you and me…hanging out all the time!

Me: Well, maybe they were easy questions for you, but, yeah, I remember. You were the only one I would talk to about those things. Well, you and my gay dog, Parker. You were so nice to me. So loving, so accepting, so reassuring…But this? The words you said about the Pharisees? Your were so…you were so… Mean! Why did you do it?

Jesus: Well, I could justify my words and tell you that some of the Pharisees were also mean to me…Some of them thought I was a crazy country bumpkin from Galilee, who hung out with that weirdo John, who was always performing the strange mikvahs in the Jordan River. And that would be true, some of them were mean to me, like really mean!

Me: But…to condemn a whole group of people, to make a sweeping generalization like that? 

Jesus: Well…I could deflect and say, “You’re one to talk, Addie.” How many times have I heard you reference “Those damn Mennonites” or “Those stupid Christians” when really, you are talking specifically about the people in those groups who are homo or transphobic? And remember right after the 2016 election when you were like “If I hear one more fucking white man say something stupid and annoying, I’m gonna…

Me: Okay, Okay. I get it, but I don’t intend to start a religion. Although, Addianity, does have a nice ring to it.

Jesus: Well, neither did I.

Me: You didn’t?

Jesus: No. And I could deny my responsibility by waxing historical. I could kvetch about Christianity’s merger with Empire, from Rome to the United States.… and how disconnecting me from my home in 1st century Palestine and my own Jewishness grossly misconstrues my words and takes them so far our of context that very, very few Christians who read these words today, actually know what I the hell I was trying to say and to whom I was really speaking and why I was so angry. I could also tell you that the Gospel writers had never actually met me and that as time went on and Christianity began to recruit more Roman Gentiles, parts of my story that painted Rome in a bad light, were softened while parts against “The Pharisees” and “The Judeans” were amped up. (labored breathing from the long rant)

Me: Is that all true?

Jesus: Yeah, its all true. But, these answers don’t really help you, do they? They might make you feel better for a little while, but they don’t actually get you out of your conundrum.

Me: What conundrum?

Jesus: How to hold these two parts of me at the same time… the part of me that is capable of of vengeance and violence, with the part of me that is loving and kind.

Me: Hmm…I guess I didn’t realize that that was the question I was asking. Okay, though…I’m intrigued. Can you tell me more about that?

Jesus: Ha! “Can you tell me more about that?” Oh my God, you are such a psychotherapist. And I love you for it, but all your thinking and analyzing won’t get you out of this one. The answer you need Addie, is actually quite simple. 

Me: But you said this answer wouldn’t be simple…

Jesus: No. I said the answer wouldn’t be easy. Simple and easy are different.

Me: Oh my God! You are such a Rabbi! And…I love you for it. Ok, okay so…What is it? What is the answer?

Jesus: The answer is that I too, have a shadow. 

Me: What?!

 Jesus: Yep! And now that you know that “The Great Jesus of Christianity” has a shadow, maybe, just maybe you can start to become less afraid of your own. 

Me: (Pause) Holy Shit!

Jesus: Exactly! Hold the “Holy” and the “Shit” together, at the same time. That is exactly right. I always loved that expression, by the way.

Me: I mean, I never even thought to consider that you might have a shadow. We’ve known each other for so long, how I am just finding out about this?

Jesus: So, you know in Peter Pan, how he keeps losing his shadow?

Me: Yeah…

Jesus: Well, he keeps losing his shadow because he doesn’t want to grow up. But its time, my friend. It is time for you to grow up. You wouldn’t be asking these questions if it wasn’t time.

How Reclaiming the Cross is Leading Me Towards Health and Healing and Away from Mennonite Church USA

This is an adapted writing from a presentation given at the Women Doing Theology Conference in Elkhart, IN on November 9th, 2018, entitled Reconciling with the Cross; Reclaiming our Souls and Symbols for the Movement. It pulls from a sermon that I did at First Mennonite San Francisco, in March of 2017. Image from Mark Stavish, Signs of the Cross.

The language of the soul is not one of words. It is one that speaks in symbols. In Christianity our main symbol is the cross. Personally, I have never felt very connected to this symbol. I have distanced myself from it as it has become wedded to Christian hegemony causing much harm all over the world. In our country’s history the confederate flag “X” is a disguised version of the cross. It is a derivative of St. George’s cross, of England which traces back to the middle ages and honors St. George, who was a military icon during the crusades (Perrin, British Flags (1922) p. 20). In fact, the cross only came to be a major part of Christian iconography during the crusades, a time of great violence, when many Jewish people and other others, were killed. Prior to that time, the main iconography was Jesus, in the field as “The gentle shepherd” (Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire). Lest we forget that Jesus was one of many Jewish people killed on the cross, during the Roman Empire. Perhaps the most tragic irony is that the cross, the torture device of the Jewish teacher, whom Christians claim to follow, has become the symbol for a religion that has been the misconstrued theological backing for much of anti-Semitism for over 1500 years.

On a personal level, the cross has been used as a symbol that alienates me from Christianity and even the Mennonites due to my queerness. I would venture to say that there is no one in this room that has not been harmed, in some way, by an interpretation of the cross. Aside from that, when I think of it, I see those bloody images of an agonizing Jesus and the whole of it just feels violent. So, for much of my life, I had buried this image and much preferred the symbology of angels and hearts. Those, I found to be more simple. “God is love and I am love. Lets keep it clean.” But through many relationships and painful experiences, I learned that I am not only angels and love. In fact, this self-perception came and continues to come with quite a bit of shadow. This sent me looking for a way to work with shadow and the symbol of the cross; a symbol that I have kept buried and other-ed within my own psyche.

The work of Carl Jung regarding archetype (which I believe is actually the work that women, indigenous, and pagan people, have been doing forever) lit something up for me in my process to reclaim the cross. Jung writes, “Nobody who finds himself on the road to wholeness can escape that characteristic suspension which is the meaning of crucifixion. For he will infallibly run into things that thwart and “cross” him: first, the thing he has no wish to be (the shadow); second, the thing he is not (the “other,”) and third the psychic non-ego (collective unconscious)” (The Psychology of the Transference. Collected Works 16. paragraph 470). 

Many of the most well known religious symbols carry these same elements of, opposing forces and balancing with “the other.” The two intertwining but opposing triangles of the Jewish Star of David, in some interpretations, symbolizes the relationship between God and Earth, and the Yin and the Yang symbolize male and female as well as dark and light. Clearly the human soul has a deep longing for “the other” as this is reflected in some of our most sacred symbols.

Paradoxically, we have a deep fear of the other. We find ourselves crossed between these two feelings. When we wear our symbols on flags and put them out in front of our bodies, the meaning tends be one of righteousness and a right to survive. Taken to the extreme, especially by those with power and privilege, the meaning tends to be that the other must be killed or exiled, in order for the self/group to live. Within our own psyches, this contributes to repressing and killing parts of ourselves that we do not want to see. This often results in projecting these qualities onto “the other”. In the collective, these projections have resulted in economic, interpersonal and group violence. For instance, the traders and owners of humans, as slaves, would not have been able to survive the pain of their own consciousness without the repression and projection of “darkness” and “savage” onto Africa and those who were from that part of the world.

The cross indeed symbolizes death, but the other common interpretation of the cross is found in the symbol of the empty cross. The empty cross places more focus and meaning on the symbolism and story of resurrection. In western culture Christianity has a monopoly on resurrection, but the truth is that it can be found in the stories of many religions and cultures. There is something universal about the resurrection narrative. In the Old Testament scriptures we read the resurrection prophesy by Ezekiel in the dry bones passage. 

One translation reads:

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”

When contextualized, this passage comes at a time when Israel has been split into two nations, sometimes waring with one another, however, common in origin. In this passage Ezekiel is receiving the prophesy that God will restore the divided nations into one again. This text could not be more apropos for the current times. I believe reading this text, apart from the lens of Christianity, as best we can, offers something important in reinterpreting and reclaiming resurrection in a deeper way, as Christians. Seeing it as a text by and for the Jewish people in antiquity, reminds us that Judaism is tribal and collective in nature. In this context, the resurrection is a collective one, not a personal one. While I utilize the cross in my own individual shadow work, I am called back into a collectivist vision and the collective unconscious, named by Jung, when I consider the symbolism of resurrection, from the Jewish perspective.

Reading the passage from this collective perspective made me wonder about the dry bones that are in this country and the soil of this Earth. It made me wonder about the collective resurrection that is needed in this country and even this church before reconciliation is even possible. I have felt what can only be described as a haunting, when visiting the old plantation homes, in the South. I felt this haunting acutely, biking in the rural southern region of Vietnam. And, I felt it recently on a trip to Germany. I think what I have felt, in these settings, are the dry bones of those who have been oppressed, conquered, enslaved and unjustly killed. These souls are in need of recognition, resurrection and justice. It has been as if the dry bones of these people are saying, “Something happened here.”

Perhaps the recent increase in discussion and awareness around identity politics is, at its core, a collective attempt at resurrecting the dry bones of women, Queer folks, Native people, religious minorities, people of color, poor folks and many more. As these souls rise up, white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchy is meeting it’s cross!

Now, let’s pause here for a second. I can really feel myself getting revved up. Having this term “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” is such a satisfying phrase to have in my back pocket. Mostly because I have a safe place to put all my blame. That sweet taste of self-righteousness is so tempting, isn’t it? Especially during these times when parts of my identities are under threat, the weight and the anger of that makes me want to harden and become dualistic. Dr. Malinda Berry illuminated this danger in her plenary talk, when she said, “Sometimes when we experience victimization we can think that we have no power. We can use a power analysis to assert power and perpetration” (Plenary presentation, Women Doing Theology. November 8th 2018). A victim identity often is accompanied by self-righteousness, judgment and a hardening of the heart, out of self-protection. With this comes further separation and further dynamics of “Us vs. Them.” When I start to do this, I find that I become very fragmented. This fragmentation keeps me from doing my internal soul work around -isms. This, I believe, is what Jung is talking about in his interpretation of the cross and the repression of the “other” and the “shadow.” We all have different soul work to do based on our social location, but without this internal process, we will continue to see the projections and creations of more divisions externally. The internal fragmentation shows up in the external fragmentation, which then creates more internal fragmentation. It is a cycle. 

For the we of us who are on the margins, I think our soul work looks like giving breath and life to the dry bones that lie in the landscape of our hearts. I think that everyone does this differently and I am not here to tell anyone, especially those with different identities of oppression, how to do this healing. For me, one way this has looked is resurrecting and healing the stories of feeling wrong for my gender and sexuality, from a very young age. The wounds of this continue to thwart me from showing up in my full power and full self and being the best ally, activist, friend, lover/partner, therapist etc. It is the part of me that is easily shamed, easily other-ed and will get small and keep quiet. Sometimes it looks like finding safe space, with those who either share those identities or have done enough personal work to not cause more harm to those aspects of my identity. These are the parts of me in need of resurrection. 

For the we of us benefitting from systems of power and oppression. The healing looks different. I think it involves the allowance of a shattering, a surrender and a willingness to be continually humbled. In the external world this also looks like a re-evaluation of how we are taking up space, enough self-compassion to withstand being “called out” or “called in.” It also requires a re-evaluation of how our money is being used, and a willingness to give up some aspects of comfort and some illusions of safety. It looks like a willingness to stand in solidarity with those on the margins, without the need to be the hero or savior, but rather a true equal and often taking direction. And, I believe it looks like grieving for the parts of us that had to die, in order to participate in systems of domination and oppression. 

For those of us, who are Mennonites of European heritage, this recognition can meet a harsh internal cross. We have thought ourselves to be and have heard ancestral stories of great moral courage and the subtle, disguised in humble, moral superiority. I know that this has been the case for me, as I have come to terms with the fact that my ancestors settled in Berne, Indiana, displacing the Potawatami people and that some Mennonites colluded and joined with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

For most of us in this room, we contain a mixture of target and perpetrator identities with in ourselves. This requires us to do both types of healing at the same time. In fact, it actually requires us to create a dialogue between the internalized perpetrator and the internalized victim.Furthermore, there is not a one of us that gets through life without experiences and triggers around feeling other-ed. Exclusion is perhaps one of the most painful human experiences. As we navigate the sludgy complexity of identity politics and the task at hand, in our multi-cultural society and multi-ethnic world, many of us will find ourselves triggered by our very personal experiences of other-ing and exclusion. It is an ongoing process to tend to those fragile parts and continue to heal them. We must find the correct and appropriate places to do this type of healing and create a healthy internal dialogue, so that this aspects of ourselves do not repeatedly leak out into social movement and collective spaces, halting progress.

The claiming of identity is an important part of our collective soul journey and social justice work. However, after the resurrection, as articulated in the Ezekiel passage, the goal is not continued division, but reconciliation. I believe that reconciliation work is ultimately, the evolution out of dynamics of victim/perpetrator. This is what resonated with me last night in Dr. Malinda Berry’s talk when she posed the question “How do we transform the suffering tree (the cross) into a healthy tree?” 

Last week, I was having a rich conversation with a friend from church, Dr. Anne Byram Blackwood. She said to me, “Suffering in itself is not redemptive.” She was speaking from her perspective of a woman of African descent, who are too often in the position of holding the suffering of the world. She went on to say, “It is living a life of faith that is redemptive.” I thought of this conversation last night as Dr. Berry charged us to “…confess our humble exceptionalism (as Mennonites) and a spirituality of martyrdom” so that we can move from being “victims to being better neighbors.” How do we make meaning of our suffering and pain? How do we live a life of faith? How do we transform it within us, in our relationships and in the collective, rather than worship and protect our pain and suffering as if it were God itself? That is a big question, that many of us need to answer for ourselves. What I can do is offer a snippet from my own personal healing journey. 

In 2017 I had my moment of public suffering at the final round table discussion of the Future Church Summit (Mennonite Convention). I started shaking and crying after at least four people, in the final hours of the summit, had looked me in the eye and talked about how “the changes” to the church made them afraid for their children. Their projections of fear and sexually predatory behavior, probably from their own interpretation of the cross, broke me open. I began shaking and crying, reliving and retelling the story of my traumatic coming out at Goshen College. I said to one of the people at my table, who had talked about being afraid for his children, “I don’t know what to say to you. You say I make you afraid for your children, but what was I supposed to do? If I didn’t come out, I was going to die. Now, all I want, is to be at the table. I am not a threat to you.” I then left the table and cried in the arms of one of the few queer pastors.

I have no idea if my public suffering transformed anything within the white man that was at our table. But, a few months later, I received an email from the pastor, who held me during my breakdown. They told me that they had a previously scheduled trip to a more conservative congregation and that their host had written them before the conference saying that she wanted to have a conversation with them. When the pastor arrived their host said something to the effect of, “You know I was planning to talk to you about your sexual orientation, but I was at Addie’s table and her breakdown transformed something in me. All I want to do now is give you a message of acceptance.” 

So, yes suffering can be redemptive when those in positions of power allow a shattering, a heart opening and a transformation. However, we don’t know when or how that will happen. My vulnerability cracked something open in that particular woman, on that particular day and for that, I am glad. But, that is not MY story of redemption. It is hers. 

My story of healing will hit a major narrative arc this coming summer, during the Mennonite Convention in Kansas City. Some of you may be there and I wish you all my love, but I will not be going. If I am to turn my internal suffering tree into a healthy one, I cannot, at this time, go to a conference that does not affirm my sacredness from the pulpit, from those in the greatest positions of power. My tree is not strong enough, at this time, to withstand the projections, without becoming a suffering tree.

So, on the weekend of the Mennonite Convention in Kansas City, I am a going to be getting married, instead. I am committing myself to an amazing, generous and wise soul. A person who has her own symbols and dieties from her own tradition and spiritual path. I once asked her, “You have done so many things and been so many things. How do you integrate it all?’ She said, “I just decided that all of it was sacred.” I know that while we disagree and fight sometimes, she has oriented herself towards the sacredness of all parts of me and herself. This is the only context for a healthy relationship and a container for the ongoing reconciliation work needed in long-term relationships and within our own psyches.

In working towards reconciling the cross, I have discovered that it is not so much what the symbol is, but what it means to an individual/group and how it is being used. For me, the relationship that provides me with the best container to do my internal cross work, is with a person who isn’t a Christian. 

You all may have guessed by now that I am a Universalist. It would be quite hard to be in a relationship with a Jewish/Buddhist partner, in a healthy way, if I wasn’t. But, I am not the type of Universalist that shies away from saying things like, “Jesus”, “the cross”, “communion,” “resurrection,” “holy,” “God” and other names and words that often stay buried in liberal circles, so as not to trigger anyone. I am the type of Universalist that seeks to own my history for better or worse. This means that I must own my Christian/Mennonite lineage and yes, even the cross, as much as I have hated it, in the past.

What makes me a Universalist is my lens. It is what I go looking for as I dig into my own history and listen/learn the stories of others. I am looking for bridges and connections, for what it means to be human, while still honoring the uniqueness of each individual, tribe and group. The reconciliation that I long for is one where we come to see each other’s unique paths, symbols and experiences as sacred; where “the other” is not feared, triggering projection, dominance and violence, but rather embraced for the unique contribution to humanity and all beings, everywhere. This is what I am ultimately am aiming for as I reconcile the cross, within myself and my history, in an attempt to reclaim my soul and symbols.

For now, the path of healing leads away from denominational spaces that do not celebrate and affirm such an essential part of who I am, from the pulpit. I remain open to seeing where this interpretation of the cross takes me and anyone else, in the future.

I am back from Jerusalem

I am back from Jerusalem and I did not find what I sought.

What were you seeking?

Wholeness. To recover the part of myself that went underground.

When did you go underground?

 

It was sometime after the time when my people stripped naked and ran through the streets proclaiming “the naked truth” 

They were deemed heretics and enemies of the state, alongside the Witches and the Jews. 

But still, they sang their hymns as they were marched towards the stake. 

They were ecstatic and convicted in their faith. You might have said they were literally, “On fire for the Lord.”

But when the end times took longer than expected, they no longer worshiped unashamed in the town square, but out beyond the city limits, in caves.

For this was a place that was cool and dark and hidden, where they could finally tend to their burns.

 

When they emerged, they carried the caves upon their heads.

Their bonnets and coverings flawless, just like their harmonies, just like their morals, just like their quilts.

It only took 400 years to spin Reformation Devils into German jewels

An object for humanity’s borderline tendencies

Tendencies that were inevitably internalized as we abandoned the Witches, the Jews and more there-after.

 

This is why I went underground, down into my family’s basement.

I was 13 years old and had seen the conflicts in the sanctuary. 

The inability to reach consensus, to be a people free of “spot or wrinkle.”

The ancestors never told me that our quest for unity would almost always result in exile.

Whether psychological or physical, I was one of the casualties.

And so I, like my ancestors, went underground, to tend to my burns.

 

Eventually, I emerged, with my rainbow covering and the re-claimed label “queer,” 

You saw me as proud, unashamed and proclaiming “a naked truth.”

You want the real truth?

You cannot be harmed without internalization, without, like my ancestors, turning that abuse on each other, and on yourself.

There is a part of me still underground, still in the caves, obsessively asking, “Am I a spot or wrinkle?..a spot? or a wrinkle? a spot or a wrinkle? Spot? Wrinkle?

You want another truth?

I am still not sure if my ancestors, the ones burned at the stake, were brilliant or crazy

Whether they were confined or liberated by their truths.

Perhaps they, like me, wander back and forth between the promised land and the caves, seeking some sort of validation, thinking it will make them whole.

 

I’d better stop doing this, though.

This obsessive pilgrimage cannot continue without abandoning the Witches and the Jews and all the others.

And I do not want to make the same mistake as my ancestors.

 

Image is from one of the caves where anabaptist worshipped in Switzerland, due to persecution. Image retrieved from The Mennonite publication. 

This poem was prompted by my discovery of Jung’s encounter with the dead anabaptists in his Red Book. It also weaves in the research of Raina Dimitriou, in her essay “Anabaptism and witches persecution in early modern Europe” as well as the research by Ben Goosen and others about some Mennonite participation, collusion and perpetration, in the Holocaust.

When I was a Girl…

What experiences on the gender continuum have taught me about patriarchy.

When I was a girl, I got out of at least 5 traffic tickets. I learned that when I stopped wearing dresses and cut my hair short, I also needed to stop more fully at stop signs.

It makes the man cops feel good to let white girls with long blonde hair and blue eyes off the hook. The patriarchy needs innocent characters to protect. I was one of them.

Now, when they come to the car window, I get my ticket. It’s not that I am perceived as dangerous…just…disappointing. And, disappointing women get tickets.

But something else happened when I stopped being a girl. The world got quieter. Much quieter. The “Hey baby’s” and the whistles, hollers and hoots decreased by at least 80%. Besides a random “faggot!” or “dyke!” once in a blue moon, I got to be invisible. And that, was a relief. 

Because, at least twice, when I was a girl and an undergrad at Goshen College “Hey baby’s” were  followed by men throwing entire sodas out of their car windows, directly at my body, as I walked down main street to my off campus house. 

This was how I learned that there is nothing flattering about catcalling. It’s not about attraction. It’s about asserting power. They need to feel like they are the ones to protect you, but they also need to feel free to denigrate you…so that you remember your value belongs to them, not you. 

And that’s a lesson from being a girl that sticks with me… like Dr. Pepper from the local Taco Bell, all over my legs.

But somedays I can forget what it was like to be a girl. After all, I haven’t been one for almost 10 years. I’ve gotten used to the quiet walks and the ability to retreat into my own thoughts undisturbed.

But when my girlfriend joins me on those walks, I remember. Even if they don’t say anything, I see it in their looks. Always first at her and then at me. She makes me visible. When they see me, it is not the familiar look of disappointment, it’s something else.

I learned once that all primates show their teeth when they feel threatened. Is that what this is? It’s palpable…thick and sticky, like fountain soda.

It’s then that I remember how dangerous it is to be a girl, walking through the world, from point A to point B. It dangerous to have a plan for your own day, and a partner of your own choice…especially someone who is not one of them. It’s dangerous to challenge their myth that we would choose our subjugation.

On Sanctity

Disclaimer: I am not a neuro-scientist, but I incorporate some neuroscience in this essay. I do not cite sources in the body of this essay, but most of my points about neurobiology of from the disseminated works of Robert Sapolsky. Here is a link to some of his work about the insular cortex. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_biology_of_the_modern_political_divide

One of my favorite moments in church was when I was sixteen years old. I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary while a ceramicist, and church congregant, was providing the children’s story. She showed the children a communion cup that she made and said something to the effect of, “This is to hold the blood of Christ.” Without skipping a beat, a little kid yelled out, “Ew! Gross! Why?” This was responded to, with some awkward laughter, shuffling in the seats and a quick redirection back to the lesson on communion. Personally, I thought this was hilarious…and moreover, poignant. How did something that most modern humans would consider disgusting, the drinking of blood, even if just symbolically, become holy?

It is pretty clear that this child felt disgust, a primary emotion felt instinctively and reactively. This is due to a little part of our brain called the insular cortex that registers and processes this experience of disgust. It is located inside of the amygdala, the processing center of emotional responses such as fear, anxiety and aggression. Evolutionarily, this has served to protect us from ingesting poisonous foods and dying. All mammals have this part of the brain, however, in the human brain, it also serves to process moral outrage or moral disgust. When I think back to the little kid in my church, I can hear both the gustatory and moral disgust in his reaction. However, it is quite possible that a little religious indoctrination was able to shift the intuitive disgust, into a place where the child could one day drink from that communion cup, with a sense of reverence. 

Behold! The power of sanctification!

In Ryan Ahlgrim’s, July 24th article in “The Mennonite” Three reasons why gay acceptance has been so divisive in MC USA, (https://themennonite.org/opinion/three-reasons-gay-acceptance-divisive-mc-usa/) he articulates a theory regarding the differing moral intuitions of liberals versus conservatives. In full disclosure, I dislike articles that are titled “__ reasons why.” I find them overly trite and simplistic. However, I have been known to click on a buzz-feed or two about the 10 best man buns, from time to time. (I’m not on the furthest end of the Kinsey scale, but close). While I agree with some aspects of his essay, I find his conclusions to be reductive and even harmful. He writes,

“Liberals tend to use the moral intuitions of care, liberty and fairness to overrule the moral intuition of sanctity (as well as of loyalty and authority), but conservatives tend to give sanctity equal weight with the other moral intuitions. Such valuing of sanctity has clear benefits. Research suggests that moral rules based on a sense of sanctity help religious groups cohere and become more stable, outlasting non-religious groups or religious groups with fewer sanctity rules. We ignore the intuition of sanctity at our peril.”

On a personal level, I felt the harm of this conclusion at the Mennonite convention last year. As a queer person, I felt the projection very clearly, that my seat at the table, resulted in the absence of the former conservative contingent of the church. It was like a knife to the heart when people would lament the congregations that were ‘no longer with us.’ These words were said from the main stage and never once was there an acknowledgement that this was the first time that queer voices and bodies were sanctioned and invited to the table. Not once was there an acknowledgment of the trauma that had been caused to us, by never being welcomed and celebrated in the past. At best, there was tolerance, with a tinge of blame for the dwindling numbers of the larger church. I felt as if I was being made responsible for the ‘perils’ of choosing liberty and inclusion over sanctity.

Aside from the personal affront, I also find this conclusion regarding the moral intuition of sanctity to be fatalistic. It leaves out an analysis of how moral intuitions develop and the fact that they are not fixed, but changing all the time. Beyond the fact that there are some things that we can eat and somethings that will poison us, everything else that triggers an intuitive response of holiness/sanctity or the opposite, disgust/othering is a result of the manipulation of the insular cortex, by dominant culture or simply coming in contact with something new or unfamiliar. However, like a baby trying food for the first time disgust can shift to pleasure with time and encouragement towards adaptation and integration. Culture shapes to what and to whom we adapt. 

So, let me just get to the point; Sanctity is a myth. It is created through collective story telling, cultural and religious customs, iconography, aesthetics and propaganda; All appealing to the insular cortex in order to build a sense of what/who is holy and what/who is not. For the last two-thousand years the church has been tangled up with empire, often creating a Christian identity that is syntonic with those power structures.

Interestingly, most of us in the United States are so colonized, that our insular cortexes no longer hold intuition about what plants are edible and what plants are poisonous. (Some though, like me, have learned that all day buffets are a bad idea; something I hope gets imbedded in my DNA and passed on to any future generations) Moreover, many of us actually eat poison on a regular basis, via pesticides and ingredients found in overly processed foods, just not enough to kill us in one sitting. Research on the long term effects of ingesting processed and non-organic foods is pushing society to re-evaluate what is truly deserving of gustatory disgust. Perhaps we are also in a process of re-evaluating our ‘intuitive moral responses’ which are actually not intuitive at all, but rather the result of manufactured insular cortexes by White-Christian/hetero/patriarchy. 

Last year, at the Mennonite Convention, at least two people on the more conservative end of the spectrum looked me directly in the eye and said, “The changes in the church just make me worried for my children.” (‘The changes’ being euphemisms for more LGBTQ inclusion) What they did not know about me is that I am fiercely protective of children. Anyone who knows me, knows this to be true. I obsess over their safety and health, to the point of obsessive compulsive tendencies. None of this could have been seen and communicated though, through the fog of their religious indoctrination and homophobic insular cortexes disguised as ‘concern for sanctity.’ This is the same fog that has blinded us from actually protecting women and children from sexual predators, often in leadership roles, particularly those who are white, male and straight. Why? Because Christian hegemony sanctified everything white, everything male and everything heterosexual a long time ago.

As I write this, I want to make it clear that I am hopeful. Yes, sanctity is a myth, but it is a beautiful one and one that I believe in, deeply. To me, sanctification is alchemy. Ever since I came out, I have been in an alchemical-spiritual process, to sanctify my life, my body and my relationships. This process of alchemy through sanctification, is core to the Christian story. Remember, we are the ones who can teach our children to drink blood, even if just symbolically, as a most sacred act. We are the ones who sanctified a torture device as our most holy symbol. Come on, Christians, I know you all are some wild and crazy mo-fos. Lest we forget our love for finding the sacred in the profane! Look at all we have sanctified! Surely, you can find the holiness in my boring life. You’d better hurry though, because lately I have been preferring shabbat over communion, where the wine is just wine; holy, like me…just as it is.