Feb 282013

In the spring of 2007, as I was thumbing through the Bible my girlfriend had recently given me, I decided to re-visit what the Bible says about “homosexual acts.”  I did not at the time know the reference, but I knew that somewhere in Romans lay the verses most often used to justify the claim that LGBTQ people are outside of God’s grace.  I had been out of the church and disconnected from any sort of spiritual community for the five years since graduating from college, where I had been reassured time and again that “unrepentant homosexuality” drew justified disdain from not only society, but from God.  A “homosexual lifestyle,” I was told, negated any effects of grace, leaving one with only the silence of God.

Though these claims contradicted my own deep convictions that God’s grace and goodness still covered me, I was buried in a sense of self-loathing that came from years of living in a culture in which I felt torn between my own identity as a lesbian and my understanding that the Bible – that God – saw this identity as a perversion.  I believed I could at some point reconcile my sexuality with my faith, but I did not believe it was possible to do so while also holding to an authentic reading of scripture: something would have to be fudged a bit in order to fit together.

It is a terrifying thing to go to scripture looking for evidence of one’s own condemnation, but that’s exactly what I was doing that day.  As I flipped through the Bible I found, much to my surprise, that the book of Romans (and a bit of Acts, I recall) was missing completely.  I chuckled as I searched back and forth in the New Testament, wondering if perhaps I had forgotten its location in the canon, then realizing that the misprinted book was a small sign of divine grace working in my life.  I took the sign with a grateful heart, unaware of the journey I was beginning toward true understanding of the grace bestowed upon me as it is revealed in scripture.

When I began seminary a couple of years later, I carried some of that fear with me, combined with a sort of stubborn determination.  Like Jacob wrestling the angel at Peniel, I was determined to wrestle with the Bible until it blessed me.  As I began to study the scriptures, though, what I found instead was an abundance of blessing.  Like the thousands of people in Mark 8, fed by seven loaves and a few small fish, I came to the Bible hungry; I ate, and was filled.  Still to this day, whenever I dig into a text and begin to hear the voices of those speaking across time, and see their faces on the people with whom I interact every day, I am continually filled; and I am continually astounded by the abundance.

Coming to terms with my sexuality and my faith has brought a mixture of both tremendous pain and liberation.  I have been told that my “lifestyle” would lead God to turn a deaf ear to me, that I would not be a suitable Sunday school teacher because of “obvious differences in interpretation of Scripture.”  I have had former pastors tell me, unsolicited, that I am gay for a number of different reasons, from my experience as a middle child, to it being a call to live a life of singleness.  These experiences have helped me to recognize the sting that comes from alienation from a faith community, and at times, the very shame of existence.  However, I have also been cared for by people in the church who did not reduce me to an “issue,” but saw me as a child of God, and honored me as such.  I have been nourished through the respect, challenge, and unconditional love embodied by those in my faith community.  This tenacious love has revealed the grace of the gospels to me, and has empowered me to open my heart and mind in study, working through school so that I might in some way carry the message to those who are convinced they are not beloved by God.

Being part of a church community has taught me a lot about the power of sharing one’s story, and has helped me see the ways in which the things we’re feeling, but seldom allow ourselves to share, tie us together.  Knowing that I am welcomed and truly loved has given me the space to acknowledge my fears, and to face them head-on.  Had I not faced those fears, I don’t know that I ever would have experienced the blessings.  I’ve been blessed to have people who assured me (and continue to assure me) that their love for me was not contingent on me being anyone other than me.

There is something profound in being given the space to acknowledge things like fear, or joy, or questions about the world and our place it in.  It often seems that, despite the discomfort it may bring, it is only when we acknowledge our emptiness that we have the opportunity to experience fullness.  In that vulnerable ( sometimes scary) space we are given strength for the journey, sustenance in the wilderness – abundance in a few loaves of bread and a couple of small fish.

Feb 112013

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender. She is best known for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1982) for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Walker is also noted for coining the phrase “womanism” (in her book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)), which examines the particularities of race, class, sex, and gender as they impact the lived experience of black women and women of color.

From alicewalkersgarden.com: “Walker has been an activist all of her adult life, and believes that learning to extend the range of our compassion is activity and work available to all. She is a staunch defender not only of human rights, but of the rights of all living beings. She is one of the world’s most prolific writers, yet tirelessly continues to travel the world to literally stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed. She also stands, however, on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation of the world.”

Feb 072013


Mabel Hampton (May 2, 1902 – October 26, 1989) was a Black lesbian pioneer who inspired many during her 87 year stay on this planet. Born in in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Hampton’s mother died when she was just two months old. She grew up in the care of her grandmother, surrounded by chickens, hogs, a garden full of roses and vegetables, her maternal aunt, and of course, friends. She formed fond memories of North Carolina during this time and was forced to leave this haven of safety when her Grandmother died when Mabel was just 7 years old.

Hampton took the train to New York City where she went to live with her aunt and uncle. Treated poorly in that family and raped by her uncle, at 8 years old Hampton walked away from their home and set out on her own.

Between the ages of 8 and 17 Hampton lived with a white family in New Jersey, was wrongfully imprisoned for prostitution, and eventually found work dancing in an all women’s troupe that performed on Coney Island. For Hampton the 1920’s were a time of dancing in all black productions, private parties with Jackie “Moms” Mabley and other Harlem Renaissance figures, and living amongst other dancers and lesbians. Mabel Hampton was “in the life.”

Hampton left the chorus lines as work dried up, claiming that “I like to eat.” She began a career of working as a cleaning woman for white families. Mabel Hampton is perhaps best recognized as a major contributor to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Through out her adult life she collected all matter of memorabilia, letters, and records documenting her history and the world around her as a black woman and as a lesbian.

In 1932 Mabel Hampton met Lillian Foster. The two quickly fell in love and remained a couple until Lillian died in 1978. For 45 years they, along with various friends, formed a household that weathered World War II, the Civil Rights era, and the Stonewall Rebellion. Perhaps most interesting about Mabel Hampton is how integrated a life she led. She was surrounded by her lesbian contemporaries, volunteered for the New York Defense Recreation Committee collecting cigarettes and refreshments for soldiers during World War II., and was her community’s air raid service warden in 1943. Despite her meager salary she attended performances by the National Negro Opera Company and regularly contributed to the Martin Luther King Memorial Fund and later to gay organizations.

Mabel Hampton clipped articles, kept letters, and later donated her treasures to the Lesbian Herstory Archives so that she could be “a part of going on.” She marched in the first national gay and lesbian civil rights march in Washington, appeared in the films Silent Pioneers and Before Stonewall. She inspired members of the gay and lesbian community in New York, and through her gifts to the Lesbian Herstory Archives, shared her tremendous history with the rest of the world. In 1984 Mabel Hampton addressed the crowds at New York City’s pride parade. She said “I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for 82 years, and I am proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my black people.”

(This Bio is a summary of Joan Nestle’s Kessler Lecture (November 1992) entitled “I Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The Life of Mabel Hampton as Told by a White Woman.” The original essay can be found in A Fragile Union, Cleis Press, 1998. Summary created by Erin Sexton-Sayler.)

Feb 062013


UnknownFannie Lou Hamer (Oct 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was a voting rights activist and civil rights leader whose “fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gainer her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist and civil rights.”

Her activist career began in 1962 when, inspired by a sermon given by Rev. James Bevel, encouraging black people to vote, despite the fact that threat of harassment, loss of their jobs, physical beatings, or lynchings. As she traveled to Indianola, Miss a week later to register, Hamer began singing hymns, as a means of bolstering the resolve of the group, illustrating her belief that the struggle for civil rights was a deeply spiritual one.

Hamer died of heart failure at the age of 59. On her tombstone in Ruleville, Miss, is inscribed one of her most famous quotes: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
(thanks again to wikipedia for the quotes)

Feb 052013


Zora Neale Hurston (January, 1891 – January 28, 1960) was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Best known for her 1937 Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston had wrote four novels and more than fifty published short stories, plays, and essays.

In the words of Katie Geneva Cannon: “In both her life and her work Hurston embodied a sensitized candor in relation to the short, invisible ethos as well as the expressed moral values emanating from within the cultural institutions in the Black community. Unlike most other writers in her time, Hurston emphasized the unique cultural heritage and wholeness of Black life. . .
. . .She used ‘folk language, folkways, and folk stories’ as symbols to measure the intrinsic values of the Black oral/aural cultural tradition. In order to refute assumptions of genetic racism and to vindicate the Black community in the face of the oppressive slander of White supremacy, Hurston used a presentational method to document the culture, history, imagination, and fantasies of Black people.” (Katie’s Cannon, p 79)