Connecticut

the first victim was from Connecticut

male in assigned gender

and would have attractions (primarily) to those assigned female at birth.

He was

5 when his father told him to stop “crying like a girl”

7 when he was showed pornography, by the older boys, down the street and

15 when he was called a “faggot” for the status: Virgin.

He was 16 when he (kind of) heard his girlfriend say “no” or was it 
“wait, slow down” (he didn’t).

She was confused though she did not expect to be heard

because she was 6 when she was told to give hugs she did not want

and 10 when she laughed at the boys looking up her skirt.

She was 13 when she learned to make her voice high and breathy and to smile

always smile.

She was 18 and had 10 more experiences like her first until she found

Judith Butler, her voice and an attraction to her college roommate

whom, at 22, she left on the dorm room steps

They were

sad but did not protest because

they expected to be abandoned

they expected to be“novel,” an object with which to “fuck the patriarchy”, at best

but not real

never real

because they were 8 when they whispered “I’m gay” into the ear of the family dog

and 10 when they began to lose hours in front of the mirror searching for a self (a gender) they had never seen.

They were 15 when they accepted that making out was just to help their best friend practice.

This is why they were not surprised, at 22, when she left them for

a gender that was clear

her parents wishes

a nice young man, from Connecticut.

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On the Mennonite resolution regarding Israel/Palestine: A snapshot of where we are as a Church

At the age of 10, I began going to Friedenswald Mennonite summer camp, in Cassopolis, Michigan. Being that I grew up in Indianapolis, with very few Mennonites, this is a place where I felt a sense of belonging. There was no American flag being raised in the mornings and no need to explain why I was abstaining from the pledge of allegiance or why would not put my hand over my heart for the National Anthem. Aside from that, many cousins were there and friends who were essentially like cousins because our parents had all grown up together, dated each other, vacationed together, etc. Some of the best memories were gathering around the campfire and singing each night.

Recently, I have had the looping memory of one particular song we used to sing. I cannot remember the entire song, but I do remember these lines, “I don’t want to be a Pharisee, I don’t want to be a Pharisee, ‘cause they’re not fair you see. I don’t want to be a Sadducee. I don’t want to be a Sadducee, ‘cause they’re so sad you see…” As I remember singing this and laughing with my Anglo-Mennonite friends, a feeling of nausea arises. I did not know this at the time, but Pharisees and Sadducees, were sects of Judaism, in 1st century Palestine. Essentially, I was a part of a group of majority white Christians who were gathered around a fire and singing, “I don’t want to be a Jewish person” Do I really need to draw the comparisons between that and a group of white men marching into Charlottesville, screaming “Jews will not replace us”?

I suppose the key difference is consciousness. I did not know that I was saying something anti-Semitic, but someone did. There were times when Christian superiority would seep out in a more direct way. The camp pastor, during my high school years, received a question about other religions and their validity. He said something like, “All the major religions are on the right track, but Christianity is the religion that all others are trying to live up to.” I had adored this pastor, but right then and there, I wrote him off. Similarly, I wrote off the idea of baptism because I could not affirm that “Jesus is the one truth, way and light.” When I was baptized in 2010, I made sure not to say those words.  These ideas did not resonate with me because of how closely tied I felt to the Jewish community, in Indianapolis. I went to the JCC for summer day camp, took piano, swimming, and worked there during High School. Aside from that, I had many more Jewish friends than Mennonite ones in Indianapolis.  Personally, the Jewish religious practices felt like they had more depth than other Christian spaces, like Young Life (I hated Young Life)  So, these subtle and overt messages of Christian superiority made absolutely no sense to me.

In the wake of the stark rise in all forms of bigotry towards minority groups, we are called to assess the unconscious permeations in our own families and communities. These very overt expressions of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia shine a light on our own subtle and unconscious expressions of these -isms.

As I reflect on the Mennonite Conference this summer, I continue to think about our process regarding the Israel/Palestine resolution. I think it gives us a huge opportunity for self-reflection as we engaged in an internal process, which effected those outside of our community. The resolution that was submitted was the result of two years of work, put in by a ten-person reference group of composed of Palestinians, Israelis and American Jewish people. The resolution was presented to the delegate body and passed with overwhelming approval. The summary of this resolution is as follows:

As followers of Jesus and his gospel of reconciliation, we long for peace, security, and the well-being of all people living in Israel and Palestine. We have heard the cry for justice of Palestinians, especially those living under oppressive military occupation for fifty years. We are also acutely aware of antisemitism and violence inflicted upon Jews in the past and the present. The suffering of these two groups has too often been set against the other. We recognize, rather, that the legacy of Jewish suffering is intertwined with the suffering of Palestinians. In this situation, there are Palestinians and Jews who work for justice and peace for all, rejecting violence and oppression. We are blessed to count them as partners and seek to support them and learn from them. We confess that we, as Mennonites, as Christians, and as Americans, bear some responsibilities for the injustice and violence that both peoples have experienced historically and currently. We commit ourselves to take active and specific steps to redress these harms. On one hand, we will oppose military occupation and seek a just peace in Israel and Palestine; on the other, we will seek deeper relationships with Jewish communities and actively oppose antisemitism.

This resolution passed with an overwhelming majority and I was one of the delegates that voted yes. This, however, was not without some thought and trepidation. During the open mic time, I was able to observe a microcosm of the larger discourse as a majority white, American, Christian group stuck their nose in this conflict. With in our tiny Mennonite body, we stretched the gamut. On the far left, people spoke of this resolution “not going far enough” in terms of its support for BDS boycotts, pushing for even more of a cultural boycott of Israel.  On the right people spoke of Christian Zionism and that God was returning Jewish people to Israel, as part of the Biblical prophecies. And, furthermore, we even had an anti-Semitic fascist, who had pamphlets that basically denied the Holocaust.

It makes my blood boil to know that this man has been tolerated and allowed a seat at the table for many conventions prior to this one and this was the first one where I was tolerated as a queer person. He was allowed 2 minutes at the open mic, about the resolution, to spew his delusional rhetoric and I was given 5 to read a poem about bridging differences and singing a song with the words, “I won’t use hate to separate.” Let me just put on my therapist hat and say, “Mennonite Church USA, I am struck by that.” This is a snap shot of where we were, at the time of passing this resolution. If we are to take seriously the call to oppose anti-Semitism, this is a snap shot, a picture, we need to face head on.

The overt anti-Semitism of the fascist is obvious, but it is important to look at the more subtle anti-Semitism that may lurk in some of the other views, as well. On the left, there has been a tendency to conflate Judaism with the state of Israel, pushing some American Jewish people out of progressive spaces, leaving them more vulnerable to rising levels of anti-Semitism in the United States. I fear that some progressive are looking away and even participating in the scapegoating of Jewish people as a group.  Furthermore, context matters.  When we are speaking out against Israel as White-Anglo Christians, that is different than a progressive American Jewish person or an Israeli person.  We have different skin in the game.  We don’t have parents and grandparents who were killed, fled or survived genocide.  THAT MATTERS.  If we are prepared to do a full boycott of Israel, we must be prepared to do a full boycott of the United States. Take you money out of the banks, out of your retirement funds, out of the stock markets. Oh, and stop paying taxes.  If we want to talk about oppressive regimes and oppression of racial “others,” we don’t need to cross any seas.  We white Christians are the occupiers of this United States.

On the right, the anti-Semitism feels more sneaky and a lot more creepy, for lack of a better word. Basically, Christian Zionist view the Jewish people as pawns in their own salvation in the “end of days.” I think it goes something like Christians (and they are probably talking about a very particular type of Christian, certainly not LGBTQ ones) are the true chosen ones who will magically ascend to heaven, when the Jewish people are returned to Israel and the Messiah returns. Personally, I think that salvation theology has got to go or needs a great deal of deconstruction before it can be useful. I can only see its merit from the view point of the oppressed (which early Christians were, indeed oppressed, and White Straight Evangelicals are not). This is the type of theology that is deadly when it teams up with empire and with capitalism, where “others” become used for the ultimate benefit of those with the most power. It was used to justify slavery, the doctrine of discovery which massacred and continues to oppress Native people. Unsurprisingly, it has been the backing of much of anti-Semitic violence over the last 1500 years.

So, with all that baggage, why did I vote yes on this resolution? I thought it was a really good resolution and I trusted the people who worked on it. I wouldn’t have voted yes had there not been collaboration with Palestinians, Jewish Voice for Peace and Israelis. But, I also voted yes so that I could write this essay and attempt to hold us and myself accountable. I seek to ally with all marginalized people inside and outside of our Church body. Mennonite Church USA, you marginalized me as a queer person and now I am a thorn in your side. I am not coming back into the fold without the other marginalized people, nor will embrace a collective identity that boasts superiority in subtle or overt ways, or needs to denigrate “the other” to figure out who they are, or tries to whitewash the pain of others in the name of reconciliation and “togetherness.” I don’t want to belong to that. I want to belong to something new.

A few nights ago, I had a dream where I was back at Friedenswald Camp, in Michigan. I was walking around and looking at pictures on the wall. A woman, who is black, comes up to me and says, “You know, they have a picture of the KKK group that lives around here. Its up on the wall and they ask me to polish it sometimes.” (for the record, a former grand dragon of the KKK did used to live around the Cassopolis, MI area, during my childhood, when I attended the camp). The woman looks at me and I understand in this moment that it is too dangerous for her to confront this and it is as if a get a telepathic message from her that says. “What are you going to do about it?” I take the picture off of the wall and show it to my father (this is not my actual father, in the dream, just a representation of white-hetero-christian-patriarchy). I say, “What the hell is this?” He says, “What? It’s just a part of our history, it’s harmless.” I yell, “You want it polished and you ask this woman to polish it! That’s so fucked up! Why would you ever think that I would bring my Jewish friends and partner to this place with this picture on the wall?” I then smash the picture on the ground.

This dream left we wondering what are the photographs on our collective Mennonite walls right now?Among many, in a complex history, here are a few from Mennonite Convention 2017: Snap shot 1: LGBTQ Mennonites being tolerated for the first time being asked to listen to the laments about Evangelicals leaving the church because they did not want to sit at the same table us. Snapshot 2: People of color breaking down when talking about their experience of erasure and abuse while white Christian men complained about feeling oppressed. Snapshot 3: Stories of abusive pastors and men in leadership being protected, while women and other abuse victims are asked to forgive. Snapshot 4: The tolerance of Holocaust denier, while we pass a resolution that charges us to confront anti-Semitism. And here is one from my own past: Singing “I don’t want to be a Pharisee” as a 10 year old and thinking just for a moment, “Something doesn’t feel right about this. What’s a Pharisee anyways?” and then overriding it. “This is church camp after all…this is where I belong…it must be okay. It’s harmless, right?”

So, as the wise woman in the dream nudged, “What are we going to do about it?” Here is my initial plan. Picture number 1: SMASH! Picture number 2: SMASH! Picture number 3: SMASH! Picture number 4: SMASH! Picture number 5: SMASH! The privileged parts of us want to rush towards reconciliation or even peace building on the behalf of others (like the Israel/Palestine resolution) without doing the necessary smashing within our own psyches, lives and communities. Only in the courage to shatter these images, or at least de-throwning them, can we live into right relationship within our Mennonite boundaries and then with our neighbors. Amidst the shattered pieces, something new, something whole and something much less brittle awaits. This is the type of salvation theology that I can get down with.

Am I not also, holy? Reflections after Orlando, Mennocon 2017

My experience at the Mennonite Church USA conference was…many things. As some of you know, I signed up for this task in the midst of break up grief/mania. I was dumped and the reason given was irreconcilable differences in regard to religion. My check-list for processing through this break-up reads like this:

1. Sign up for Mennonite Conference with the hopes of healing all religious trauma

2. Stay up late researching all of the following things:
a. my own genealogy
b. The history of Christianity
c. The history of Judaism
d. Early Christianity and its split from Judaism
e.The history of humans
f.The history of Neanderthals (a particularly glorious rabbit hole)
g.The history of the world (It’s 4.4 billion years old!)
h.The history of the universe (it’s 14 billion years old!)
i.String theory and parallel universes

3.Write songs and poetry
4.Have many epiphanies that feel SO DEEP that will later feel rather obvious
5.Get a tattoo
6.Cry, a lot

I make jokes, but this is the type of break up mania that can only occur when it intertwines and triggers one’s own trauma. The trauma that was triggered was given to me, very clearly, by the Mennonite Church. This is the trauma of feeling like something that I could not change, did not fit into the boundaries of the community…that my otherness, my queerness, is a threat to the space and me just being me, could send my church into deep conflict…where people would yell, cry, leave and LGBTQ members would be denied membership and jobs/leadership positions. The image of two people being denied membership was recurring during my grief process, as were dreams/nightmares where I was wandering around, trying to find my place and asking “Am I not also, holy?”

During my first introduction at the Future Church Summit session (The dialogue process that delegates participated in to discuss the future of the Church), we were asked why we came to the convention. I said, I am a representative for my church, but I also came to seek some healing. We were asked to share a story with one other person, about our Mennonite journeys. My partner shared about her experience in the 60s of getting a divorce from an abusive husband. She shared with tears in her eyes that she was ridiculed, judged and told that she could not live with the other women, in the dorms, at Goshen College, because she might be a bad influence. Divorce in those days was what LGBTQ issues are today. She shared that she went to a Mennonite Convention in the 60s and stood strong, as she told her story. She stated that a leader of the Mennonite Church, gave her a public apology. As I told her my story, she made the bridge between our shared space of pain, though our stories have many unique differences. I felt this was a promising interaction for my intention around healing.

My memories of other parts of the convention (even though it was just last week) feel somewhat swirling and a mix of deeply healing moments, with moment of clarity and also fog and dissociation. Some of these clear moments include the message delivered by Regina Shands Stoltzfus at the inclusive worship service as she has an ability to cut directly to the truth and give the audience a felt sense of intersectionality (Kimberle Crenshaw). She holds that beautiful grounded heart space of both sorrow and hope, perhaps the place where new life can bloom.

Another moment of clarity was getting on stage on Friday afternoon, in front of 600 plus people in the delegate body. I was slightly distracted because my time had been cut from 20 minutes down to 5 and I found this out 20 minutes before I was supposed to perform. Swirling in some questions about the reasons for this last minute change, I flubbed some of the words to my poem (adding in a weird adage about “the lord” something that was not written, but I felt that maybe I would not be taken seriously if I didn’t say “God” “Jesus” or “The Lord”) However, there was this moment when I was singing my own words, “I have felt myself get tall and I have felt myself get small. Its what I do when I fall, for you. I won’t be less than you, I can choose to be chosen too.” I looked out to a room and felt like I was speaking directly to the archetype of the toxic patriarch. In that moment, I was free.

These were the types of moments when I felt like we might be moving forward, but there was another energy present. The energy that protected the powers that be and clouded the truth while talking in code. One such moment was when the executive board asked for “Prayers” about the “issue” that we all received in “an email” about “the state of things.” What they were referring to was the suspension of Doug Basinger, from his leadership position, due to his sexual orientation. Before I could even explain to my table what was being talked about, the moderator, Patty Shelly, started singing from the pulpit “Lord, listen to your children praying.” I don’t have any other description for this, except it felt gross. I think that song might be a little ruined for me, for a while.

These cloudy moments continued in smaller group discussions as people talked about their sadness that conservative churches had left the larger Mennonite conference. It occurred in comments about “the changes” and people in conservative churches being worried about “their children.” One of the more aggressive moments was when a woman said that God had been on a journey with her friend and led her back to being with a man, after she had been with a woman. She did this in front of group of 10 people, when I was the only queer person at the table. This was the story she chose to illustrate the theme of God being on a journey with us. She stared me down, as she told this “testimony.”

It was soon after this interaction that a tornado warning was issued and we could hear loud thunder roaring outside. We could have forgotten that there was an earth and elements, in that sprawling and overly air conditioned convention center. However, we were being reminded in that moment. I had a vision of a tornado bursting right through the “Love is a Verb” (the convention theme) icon that was at the front of the room and I thought to myself, “I am not dying with these people. I am not dying with the woman who just humiliated me. I am not dying with these white christian men, who are claiming that they are now the ones being oppressed. I am not dying with the man in the room, who has my last name, who got up during the resolution on Israel/Palestine and said that Jewish people had not experienced pain. There is nothing like an anti-semitic man, with your last name, that will make you throw all remnants of ethnic Mennonite tribalism out the window. That really sealed the deal for me.

In a moment, that I find kind of funny now, I left the main hall, during the tornado warning and went to the empty Pink Menno room, thinking it might be better to die there. This was a likely indicator that my system was becoming a bit overloaded, after exposing myself on stage, earlier that day. I think that heart-opening, left me a bit more vulnerable.

The next day, at the final delegate session, I had my 11th hour break down. As we were wrapping up conversations, I had a moment of panic. What did we even talk about? I don’t feel like I know anything about these people and they know nothing about me. We talked about wanting the church to be centered on Jesus and following Jesus, but what does that even mean? I think it means VERY different things to me, than for the man at my table who thinks that he is being oppressed. Someone mentioned AGAIN the loss of the conservative churches and I broke down.

I said to the man claiming oppression, “I know that you feel oppressed and are worried for your children and I don’t know what to say to that, except that I am sad. It feels like in order for you to feel safe and not oppressed, I have to not be here. When I came out at 21, while at Goshen College, my body was shutting down. I was losing weight and not eating. It truly felt like I had to either come out or die. If I could have stayed in the closet and survived, I would have. So, I really don’t know what to say to you.” I then left my table and cried in the arms of Michelle Burkholder, the pastor of the Hyattsville church and the third queer pastor in Mennonite Church USA . Interestingly, I had yet to have much of a conversation with her, but I just sensed that she was the type of person that could hold me…and, she was.

The final vote for the approval by the delegate body, for the statement put forth by the Future Church Summit, was a complete blur for me. There was an unplanned open mic and the statement, that called for a more inclusive church as well as attention towards issues of social justice became watered down. Then people were raising their hands to approve the statement and it all went very fast. If I had not been so exhausted and confused I would have voted no or abstained, but I didn’t do anything. I didn’t raise my hand at all. This was a big lesson in how power maintains, when whiteness, patriarchy, heterosexism and Christian hegemony are centered and unexamined. Those on the margins, just become exhausted and confused in trying to speak about the right just to be taken seriously or seen as fully human. If there is one thing this experience gave me, it was infinitely more empathy for those on the margins, who are having to do this more than I am, in the queer friendly bay area.

I am glad that the conference ended when it did because I could feel myself getting a little obsessed with my own pain and trauma. I can feel the spinning nature of that, as I read back this reflection. I watched the Bill Maher documentary, “Religulous” on the flight home and that helped with a feeling of levity. When I shared, with the person I am dating, some of the homophobic things that were said, she could not help but laugh. She did not grow up with this type of Christianity or any Christianity at all, so her outsider view could mirror something else to me, something that I maybe did not need to take so seriously and allow any more power over me. This was helpful and allowed a spaciousness and a shaking off. It is easy to get narcissistic and grandiose about pain. (I’m sure that my whiteness intertwines somehow with that, but that is another article)

When our identities get tied to pain, letting it shake off and finding levity can feel like a death or a betrayal. This, I think, keeps us from connection, especially across divides, that the white-heteropartriarchy power structures, would like to keep divided. My main intention is to keep this experience as an ever present point of empathy, not to overlay my experience, but connect into, just as the woman at my table did regarding her experience at Goshen, in the 60s.

My flight back, made a stop in Miami. When we landed, I looked out the window and saw a beautiful double rainbow. I later found out, that at the same time, there was also a double rainbow that arched over the convention center in Orlando. This was of course personally meaningful as the rainbow holds symbolism, in my psyche, that is both Biblical and queer. It felt like mine and I know that it felt like it was meant for us queer Mennonites that day. But, the truth is that it was there for everyone. It was also a rainbow for the woman who humiliated me, the white Christian men who feel oppressed and even for the man who made anti-semitic remarks. Do not get me wrong, I do not condone this and think this man should not be allowed at conferences with his hateful rhetoric, but I do affirm that even he is not out of the reach of the Divine. I cannot hold these people because as their fragility shatters, shards tend to fly every which way, but the Divine can. In the letting go of my own Christian grandiosity, I let go of any need to save anyone else.

My purpose is to save myself, or rather claim myself and then share that journey with others in the loving wish that they might do the same. The wish that they too might feel the freedom of a Divine Being that is too expansive for any church, any religion and any denomination. This is the Divine Equal that proclaims you as both whole and holy from the very beginning, to the very end. This is the Divine Self. The question that arose in my nightmare has been answered; Yes, I am holy too and so are you.

 

Flying Back into the Cage: Reflections on reengaging in the Mennonite Church USA (from July 21st, 2015)

First off, I am so glad that the article I wrote meant so much to so many people. Like a good Mennonite, this gratitude came in waves, interspersed with feelings of guilt and embarrassment for the recognition. I really have done nothing to contribute to the Pink Menno campaign and so many fellow LGBTQIA Mennonites put their bodies and hearts on the line, at the recent conference.

I don’t know if I could have or would have wanted to be there. It still deeply impacts me when I feel like anyone in the room does not approve of me. It sends me into a bit of an obsessive spiral and throws me completely off center. The constant, “What are they thinking about me?” can be paralysing, so I avoid those situations as much as possible. This is likely why I avoid MCUSA conferences and engaging on this topic in general. I feel so free in my Church and living in the Bay area. Why would a free bird willingly fly back into a cage?

I believe I outlined these reasons for re-engaging in my recent article. The inspiration for my tone was watching the transforming power of love as a couples therapist. I see that couples are able to change deeply ingrained patterns when they truly understand the impact they have on one another. Couples do this through eye contact, attunement, learning to tell their stories vulnerably and learning to listen vulnerably.

We are missing some variables for accessing this level of empathy in the cyber age, but I thought I would do my best. In my fantasy, my article would have the power to transform people with more conservative views, into acceptance. In actuality though, I think it just helped those who resonate with my message feel understood and heard. For those who inherently think my identity is a sin, well, I think that their Biblical interpretation holds more weight than my personal testimony.

For many centuries The Bible has been both a source of liberation and oppression. We as Anabaptist found spiritual liberation (though it came with 300 years of death and persecution) from the Holy Roman Empire, by finding different interpretations of the Bible. African Americans created spiritual and gospel songs of freedom, while down the street, at church, their imprisoners found justification for their behaviors within interpretations of the Bible. I imagine this trend will continue for some time.

I feel resigned, but not in a bad way. If I work with a couple for sometime and things don’t improve, sometimes the healthiest thing is to break up.

Yesterday, I engaged in a facebook comment chain about the recent change in hiring policies at Goshen. One man stated that he thought it was okay to hire LGBTQ people as janitors, secretaries, food workers, and maintenance workers, but not as professors. When I pointed out the hurtful nature of this comment he stated, “I know my comment is hurtful but, honestly, you’re always going to hurt someone’s feelings.” He goes on to say, “I don’t expect a (Sikh) to be like me. If his feelings are hurt because I am not more like him, that’s not my fault.” (I could write another article on all the layers of racism, classism and patriarchy here.) I am not hurt because he is not like me.  I am hurt because of the devaluing.  Essentially, this person conveys that he no longer cares if he hurts my feelings. His convictions outweigh his ability to feel impacted by my story and my feelings. I feel some relief in understanding that.

To him and others with similar convictions, I say, “I hear that me, just being me, is a threat to you. For that, I feel great sadness. I feel sad that my very existence threatens you and your beliefs.  I get how scary that must feel. Your comments are a projection of this fear that would be damaging for me to internalize. I will not absorb nor defend against your projection.  I cannot unleash a flood of mimetic verbiage. If I did, I would be colluding with the belief that your existence is a threat to me, leading me down a dangerous path towards extremism and annihilation. I don’t want to destroy you because I know that if I need to destroy you to be okay, I will also destroy myself. Dear one, I guess it’s time to break up. Sometimes it is better to walk away than dig our heels further into the ground. We will both be happier. Maybe we will get back together later, or be friends when we find something else in common or when you care about my feelings again.”

So, why would a free bird willingly fly back into the cage? Because I know that I am the one that holds the key.  I can fly away anytime I want.  Maybe I will go to the conference in 2017.

 

Artist Image: unknown, let me know if you know!

H.D.’s Truth

I love the fall.

That’s why I sat on this wall.

 

Yes, we know how the story ends.

But, maybe I did not want to be put back together again.

Certainly not by the King’s horses and men.

 

You see, I am not interested in preservation.

Nor am I interested in restoration.

I am awaiting transformation.

 

That is the work of what cannot yet be seen.

And for that, you, I and we, will need the vision of a Queen.

 

Bridging the Divides

My first offense happened at the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis. I was 5 years old. We had joined the JCC because my Mennonite family was not really the country club type and the local swimming/exercise club had a history of denying membership to Jewish people and Black folks. My mother being who she was, did not stand for that because her mother being who she was, did not stand for that.

So, there I was, attending one of the many summer programs that the JCC offered, twirling around and singing my favorite song, “Jesus Loves Me.” One of the adult leaders caught wind of this and said, “You can’t sing that here!” I remember stopping in my tracks and feeling ashamed and confused. I don’t know if the counselor told my mother, or if I did, but I do remember the conversation that followed. My mother told me that Jewish people do not share our same belief in Jesus. I remember her iterating that this belief is good and okay, just different. She said that when I am in their space, I can respect their beliefs by not singing Jesus songs.

A few weeks later I was singing it at home, on the toilet and my grandfather walked by and said jokingly, “Hey! You can’t sing that here!” and then gave a hearty laugh. I was still a little confused. This became a sort of family lore for sometime. “Addie was singing Jesus Loves Me at the JCC” (enter laughter). Lately, and in light of our current political climate, I have been able to find the depth of this experience and the lessons.

Unless you are a straight, white, Christian, Cis-gendered, middle class/upper class, male, you are living in the crossroads or the intersections. Even if you have all of these privileged identities, you are still living in this system. For me, I am a female bodied, Queer, non-binary, white, middle class, Mennonite. I am living right up in the middle of all these intersections, with identities of privilege and identities of marginalization. Immediately following the election, I felt all the fragments of my multiple identities and a sensation of feeling trapped; on an island. I felt rage and anger towards many white men, cis-white-straight-women and gay white men. Basically, anyone with more identities of privilege. I just wanted them to shut up.

Meanwhile, I was feeling guilty, weary and insecure regarding my own identities of privilege. This, I believe, was causing me to make offenses left and right or at the very least creating some leaky boundaries. So, parts of me were rigid and angry while other parts flimsy and loose. What a fragmented and dichotomous place to be! I felt incredibly scattered and was experiencing a lot of mood swings.

One very odd experience summed it up, when I was trying to find a parking spot. Two white males, in a SUV proceeded to back up more then 30 feet, on a busy road. They did not look in their rearview mirrors and nearly hit me. I honked and swerved my little compact car, without looking in my rearview mirror and nearly hit an African-American man on his bicycle. He yelled into my car window, “What are you doing? Fuck you!” Without thinking much I yelled, “I’m sorry! I love you!” Sigh. We were all moving so fast.

In an age of tweets and outrage, action and reaction and 24 hour news coverage it can be hard to slow down. There was pressure to know what to do and everyone seemed to have an idea of what that was; what actions were wrong and what actions were right. One night I lay in bed and said out loud, “I don’t know how to bridge these divides.” I spent the next day wrapped up in a blanket, depressed and feeling isolated. Allowing myself to slow down, surrender and say “I don’t know” created an opening. I realized that the parts of me that were feeling flimsy and loose were in need of self-compassion, while the parts that were ridged, angry and judgmental were in need of more curiosity.

If you have an identity of privilege, you have made an offense at some point. For most of us in the liberal camp, it has more often than not, been unconscious. We live in a country that was founded on divides, on the displacement and murder of native people and the sociopathic ownership of other human beings. It is in our DNA. One of the best things we can learn how to do is how to recover from a trespass or an offense. For me, I have found that self-compassion is essential. Without this, I am looking to the person or group that I offended to make me feel better, creating those loose and leaky boundaries. If there is openness and consent about processing the offense, I own it and say “I’m sorry.” However, consent it crucial. It is okay if a marginalized person or group does not want to process with you and the best thing to do is provide space. In the space, I will sometimes light a candle for my continued healing around my own internalized oppressor identities.

In the past few months, since the election, my approach towards those with more privileged identities has softened. I have realized the need that we have for one another and I have a desire to bridge divides in this direction as well. It is hard to sit with the hypocrisy of a liberal white man, who claims outrage over Donald Trump, but then does not seem to listen when women, people of color or queer folks speak. At the same time, I know that I have committed these offenses. I too, have been guilty of white-splaining, I’m sure. It is easy for me to label them as hypocrites and dismiss them. What is more difficult is holding on to the complexity and even the innocence of an individual, while still acknowledging the impact of identity politics at play.

It is in these places of complexity and hypocrisy that I embrace the story of myself, 5 years-old, at the JCC. It is true that I needed to learn to respect the space of the JCC as well as learn the historical and generational trauma that likely yielded the reaction from the counselor. I needed to eventually learn about reverence and respect for different traditions, cultures and religions. And, at the same time, I was innocent. Following the election, I believe I lost sight of innocence. I lost sight of my own and the innocence of others. It is still a struggle, day in and day out. Some days I have more patience then others and that is okay. On the days when I have less patience is is just a signal that there is likely a part of me that needs to be tended to before I can tend to another.

The title of this essay might give false hope that I have the answer for bridging the divides right now. I do not. I am not in the business of telling people what to do, especially in such a difficult time. We are all coming at this from different places and I believe all lenses have something to offer. What I would like to do is offer a story, where I feel like I had a taste of what it might mean for me to be an ally in the intersections.

On the day of the women’s march, I was traveling on Bart to the march in San Francisco. I had my head phones on but felt an intuitive nudge that I was supposed to be engaged externally. Just then, a young man man began targeting a person who was gender-nonconforming, female bodied and a person of color. He held his hand up like a gun and mimicked shooting at their head. The targeted person became agitated and swiped at the young man. At this point, I just heard an internal voice say “move” and walked toward the conflict. I did not engage with the perpetrator, but was able to lock eyes with the targeted person. I stood in between them and engaged them in a soft smile. At this point, the young man began uttering all sorts of homophobic and transphobic slurs. Being that these were identities that I shared with the targeted person, I was no longer sure who was being targeted. At this point, I looked behind me and a cis-gender, white male, had followed quietly and was offering a layer of protection for the both of us. The train became silent and in a most amazing moment, the young man, who I believe was struggling with mental illness said, “I don’t know why I just said all that. I’m sorry” and he exited the train.

For whatever reason this intervention worked, on this particular day, at this particular time. There may have been a million different ways to handle that situation. For me, I was born into a pacifist religious tradition and I have never won an arm wrestling match in my entire life.  So, my interventions are probably going to look much like the one I chose.  We all need to listen for what we are called to do, at this moment in time, particularly around bridging divides. None of us are free of or can escape the healing needed internally and externally. May I, and may we, find moments of grace, innocence and of of course a fierce commitment to protect what needs protecting and embrace what needs embracing.

Reconciling with the Cross

The lectionary scripture Ezekiel 37 is referenced in this piece below.  Feel free to check it out, for context.  Below was a sermon spoken at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. 4.2.17

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 derivative of the cross, after all. In my own genealogical history, the cross was likely utilized when hunting down and killing many of my anabaptist ancestors. In my lifetime, 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 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 most of my recent life, I have buried this image and much preferred the symbology of angels and hearts. When I picture the archetype of a Bible thumping, queer hating pastor, he is holding a bible or a cross, not a heart (although, trading the cross for the heart in my imagination is rather amusing and it takes some of the power out of it)

If it wasn’t for Jung, I may have spent the rest of my life cut off from this symbol and it would have remained like dry bones in my internal landscape.  Sheri told me about his interpretation a couple of weeks ago. 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)” 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. The crescent moon and star of Islam also needs the contrast of the dark night sky to shine. 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. Perhaps the greatest fallacy of all time is that the other must be killed or exiled, in order for the self to live. Within our own psyches we repress parts of ourselves that we do not want to see and project 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 with out the repression and projection of “darkness” onto Africa and those who were from that part of the world.

The dry bones passage, which is the lectionary scripture for this week, when contextualized 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. And here we are today, living in a nation divided. This text could not be more apropos for the current times. In the passage, Ezekiel reports that God speaks to him and says, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves,” harkening images of resurrection. It made me wonder about the dry bones that are in this country and the soil of this Earth.

I have felt what can only be described as a haunting, when in the South of the United States, visiting the old plantation homes. I felt this haunting acutely, biking in the rural southern region of Vietnam. 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.

A few years ago I was coming out of the Bart station and a group of Indigenous people were participating in a traditional dance. A large crowd had gathered around, taking awe in this ritual. As I watched, I noticed myself becoming extremely emotional and I began to cry. It is hard to put into words what I was feeling because it is as if these feelings were rising up in me from the roots and soul of the earth, not somewhere rational or logical. I think what was happening for me is that I saw a people whose culture has been on the brink of extinction. I thought about the cement that they were dancing on and what might be buried beneath it. I saw their ancestors in holograms all around their dancing bodies and I wept for them, at the same time feeling reverence for the survival of this ritual and willingness to share it.

Perhaps the recent increase in discussion and awareness around identity politics is, at it’s 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. (Sigh)  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. I am thinking that maybe I should create some kitschy symbol for being “anti white supremacist, anti-capitalist, anti patriarchy”, place it on a flag and then go wave it in the faces of the tech bros downtown. That would feel really good. That sweet taste of self-righteousness is so tempting, isn’t it?

Kahlil Gibran writes, “He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.” As soon as self-righteousness and judgment creeps in, so does a hardening, so does armor and so does separation and “Us vs. Them.” Furthermore, it keeps us from doing our own internal soul work around internalized -isms. This 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 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 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.

For the we of us benefitting from systems of power and oppression. The healing looks different. Primarily, 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 on how we are taking up space, enough self-compassion to withstand being “called out” or as Joanna says, “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 taking direction.

For most of us in this room, we fall in the intersections (Kimberly Crenshaw) of these social locations. So, most of us are required to do both of these types of healing, at the same time. 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 each of our jobs to do our own healing around this, especially the we of us with more positions of power, in order to decrease reactivity.

The claiming of identity is an important part of our collective soul journey and social justice work. However, we must remember that the task at hand, after God resurrects the bones in the Ezekiel passage, is not continued division, but reconciliation. Here a reinterpretation and reclaiming of the symbology of the cross is helpful for me. The mistake has always been holding the cross out in front of us, putting it on flags and walls and worshipping it. Anything we bow down to and worship is inherently separate from us and unable to be embodied. I think Moses really had something with this whole graven images and idolatry thing. It keeps us from internalizing this image that can be one of reconciliation and surrender. If embodied, the point at which the vertical crosses with the horizontal runs directly through each of hearts, breaking open compassion. This has the power to eradicate any divisions, internally and externally and any paradigms of “Us. vs. Them.”

The cross between what is other and what is self, what is shadow and what is light, can only be reconciled with the help of the heart. When I sit with people, as a therapist, I see that it is truly impossible for them to reconcile any painful childhood memories or other painful things without the awareness of their own hearts, also known as compassion. The heart is truly the place where our souls, spirits and egos can integrate. I like to call it the integration station. Surely, this must be true in the collective, as well.

We all have different purposes right now. Some of us are claiming our voices and our identities, speaking out and marching. Some of us are writing.  Some of us are contracting and needing to seek refuge. Some of us are expanding and hoping to build bridges and organize. There are many ways to show up right now and attention to each of our souls will let us know the direction in which we are being called. But, where ever you go and whatever you do, take with you an interpretation of your symbols that reflects the world you want to create.   For me, this is reconciliation and integration with all things, internal and external. Symbols and our interpretation of them have the power to change history. Christian hegemony has owned and interpreted the cross for far too long, shaping a very violent history. Our souls and this movement need to reclaim, resurrect and allow the spirit to breath new life into our symbols, or else they are just dry bones that will haunt us. So, this Queer Mennonite is taking back the cross and reinterpreting it.  I am not ready to put it on my body or even on my walls and I may never be.  I am going to start with something much more sacred; putting it inside of my body and letting it cross and crack open my heart. Amen

Paradox for Pardon

Interesting how you worship the blood of a man, yet you are repulsed by the blood of a woman.

And which of these is actually responsible for eternal life?

You know the answer. You always have.

There is power in a creature that can bleed for days on end and not die.

Did this make you feel small? Scared? Insignificant?

Is this why you killed the witches?

You needed a nasty woman to make yourself into a righteous man.

If only you would have known that your worth is not dependent on the denigration of the other.

That sacredness is not about separateness, but rather the sum of all parts.

You did not need to murder mystery in order to find clarity. Now, you have only left room for paradox.

When you killed her, you killed yourself.

This is why your eyes are empty.  Your tower is golden, but hollow.  Your hallways are haunted (and you know by who).

There is only one way out of this nightmare (and our souls depend on it).

Resurrect the Witches

…and they will be the ones to resurrect the man.

Holy Matrimony

I am available for holy matrimony.

The mixing of you and me, the alchemy of the “I” and the “Thee.”

In my fullness, I offer

My Heart

My Soul

My Spirit

Picture me jumping into a clear lake

Submerging

then

Emerging

Intact.

And yet, porous and permeable to the offerings of

Your Cool Waters

Your Holiness

Your Sacred Heart

In matrimony that is holy, anything that is no longer needed simply washes away.

And what is true, my love, simply remains.

Divine Guidance

To allow Divine guidance one must embrace the unknown.

The Wilderness

The Desert

Open space

Picture hopping one stone to the next.  The words “I don’t know” repeat, become tonal and eventually turn into song.

And every once in a while there is an opening and the view is long.  It is as if you can see things from every angle, all at once.

You see the purpose of every step that came before and every step that is yet to come.

When you learn to trust that you are stepping to the tune of your song, you will know that what it has been all along and what it will be forever more, is a dance.

Divine Gui-dance