Mar 202015

I’ve started blogging for More Light Presbyterians, and just wrote my first piece, on the recent ratification of a new amendment by the Presbyterian Church (USA), defining marriage as between “two people,” rather than as between a “man and a woman.”

I work with LGBTQ youth so, on the whole, I don’t hear a lot about marriage equality – at least, not at work. It’s not that marriage isn’t important to LGBTQ youth; it’s that marriage isn’t really a topic that’s important to teenagers. Getting a date for prom? Yes, that comes up (just came up today, actually). Being able to use the bathroom without being harassed? Yes, quite frequently. But, marriage? Not so much. It’s just not yet in their direct line of vision.

If marriage does come up, particularly marriage equality, most of the youth recognize that things are changing. There is a general understanding that things are changing – they are (thankfully) able to rest on the fact that, should they desire to marry someone of the same gender one day down the line, they will be able to do so without restrictions from the law.
One topic that does come up frequently, if not directly, is religion. When youth talk about religion, it is often couched in a sentence like: “well, you know, they are religious, so they didn’t really want me around,” or: “you see, my family is really Christian, so they’re not ok with me being gay/trans/queer.” In one of our weekly support groups last week, after hearing sentiments like this from several youth, I paused the discussion to ask if any of the youth have ever had a religious person unconditionally affirm their LGBTQ identity. The confused looks the youth gave me were answer enough. The silence that followed was deafening.

Just as many of the youth assume that they will one day be able to marry a person regardless of their gender identity, many of them still assume that Christians – especially straight Christians – who affirm the identities of LGBTQ people are a bit like Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street: though someone may assure them of their existence, most youth still believe them to be imaginary. Though the Church has come a long way with regard to acceptance of LGBTQ people, the experiences many LGBTQ youth have had in faith communities, particularly mainline Christian denomination communities, have been traumatic. I can count on one hand the number of youth I’ve met in the last year-and-a-half who’ve been part of a church that wholeheartedly affirmed their identity.

When I got news of 14-F passing on Tuesday night, I was in the middle of a group meeting. We were on a break and I stepped into my office to quickly check my phone and had texts from people delightfully sharing the news. I excitedly came out of my office and shared that my denomination had just ratified an amendment changing the definition of marriage. Again, I got confused looks – one youth asked if it had been changed to solidify that marriage is “between a man and a woman.” “No,” I said, “It’s been changed to define marriage as between two people! Just people! That means that folks all over the country – churchy folks – voted to recognize that marriage isn’t just between a man and a woman.”

“Wow.” They replied. “That’s pretty cool.”

The passing of 14-F is a really big deal. And not just for people who want to marry someone regardless of gender. It’s a big deal because it is evidence of a large-scale movement toward a new understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ identities. It shows people who’ve been hurt by their experiences in the Church that not all churches are the same. It is a huge affirmation that there are Christians who are open to new understandings of how we can be in relationship; and, by extension, how we can live into being God’s beloved children.

I recently asked a couple of youth how they would feel if I became a pastor.

“Would that mean that you could marry people?” they asked.

“Yes,” I said, “it would.”

“Yeah. That’d be really cool.”

So, maybe they don’t talk about it much, but I like knowing that if they are thinking about it one day, their marriage could happen and would be recognized in a Presbyterian church.

Jul 292014

“North American Time, VIII”
By Adrienne Rich

Sometimes, gliding at night
in a plane over New York City
I have felt like some messenger
called to enter, called to engage
this field of light and darkness.
A grandiose idea, born of flying.
But underneath the grandiose idea
is the thought that what I must engage
after the plane has raged onto the tarmac
after climbing my old stairs, sitting down
at my old window
is meant to break my heart and reduce me to silence.

There are a lot of wonderful things about working with queer youth – wonderful things! They are creative, funny, and self-aware, with excellent b.s. meters. It’s incredible to be able to walk with them as they begin to articulate who they are to the world around them.

There are also some tough things about working with queer youth. There are some nights at group when I hear things that I can’t even begin to process. I’ve had to work through the difference between carrying someone’s trauma (or even holding it), and offering a space for someone to safely share the trauma they’ve been carrying.

Anyway, this poem frequently comes to mind. It seemed worth sharing.

Aug 052013

I had the chance to write for the Next Church blog recently, and wrote about a bit of my experience working with ROSMY. The piece is below.

During my last year of seminary I had the opportunity to intern with an organization called ROSMY that serves LGBTQ youth, ages 12-20. Since that time, I’ve continued to volunteer in various capacities, and often think the way in which ROSMY’s staff and volunteers embody the organization’s simple goal of “helping youth be themselves” would serve as a powerful model for the Church. I am constantly amazed and inspired by the transformation that comes as youth are given the tools to explore and articulate who they are, and know that they are honored and respected no matter the baggage they carry or the scars they bear when they come in. Every day the cinder-block building that houses the organization becomes a sacred space where lives are transformed through conversations that offer the youth something that many of them cannot find anywhere else: the opportunity to belong.

I recently attended ROSMY’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner, where folks who serve with ROSMY are given free food and a big “Thank You” from the staff. I was sitting at a table enjoying a meal and conversation with a handful of regular group facilitators who help lead conversations at any one of several programs that go on throughout the week. Included at the table was Betsy, a 64-year-old former drama teacher who, I would soon learn, has been volunteering with ROSMY since 2001. At some point a relatively new facilitator, Justin, approached an empty seat at the table and asked if he could join us. As we went around and did our introductions, Betsy’s face lit up with a flash of recognition and excitement. Their words were muddled together as Betsy and Justin embraced in a joyful hug. As it turns out, Justin was one of ROSMY’s youth a decade ago, and Betsy was one of his facilitators.

“Oh gosh, it’s good to see you,” Betsy said. “I saw those eyes, and I just knew that I knew you you.”
The moment blew me away. Given the number of youth that come in and out of ROSMY’s doors in any given year, and that Betsy has been there for over a decade, it’s a safe bet that she’s led conversations with hundreds, if not thousands of teenagers during her time as a facilitator. I was humbled by the level of respect she gives the youth, by how very present she must be at every conversation to be able to recognize someone, even after a decade apart.

I saw those eyes, and I just knew that I knew you.

In the midst of a world that is largely unkind and a Church that moves between antagonistic, indifferent, and complacently silent, ROSMY offers LGBTQ youth a chance to to be honored, heard and known. ROSMY’s approach is pretty straightforward: create a space for people to articulate who they understand themselves to be, give them the opportunity to safely explore that identity, and celebrate the diversity of personalities that make a community unique. This simple act spurs transformation, enabling youth to empathize with one another, to hold each other accountable, and to honor every person who comes through the door. Time and again, youth come to ROSMY and bloom, empowered through a process of self-discovery to open up to the world around them, building friendships with one another and serving as leaders and mentors for new youth who come in. The community that is built provides a foundation not only for individuals, but also for future leaders. A number of youth, like Justin, come back as facilitators, offering not only support, but also a model of life beyond the current muck many are trudging through, as if to say: “Yes, I have been where you are, and I know it’s tough, that it sometimes feels unbearably painful; but, know that you are not alone.”

What might the Church be like if we used ROSMY’s model as an approach to ministry? What would happen if we focused first and foremost on making a space where all people knew that they were welcomed, honored, and loved – that it was safe to show their scars, to bear one another’s burdens? Would giving each other the space to articulate who we understand ourselves to be give way to empathy, trust, and accountability, and community building? What might the church be like if we look each other in the eyes often enough that, even after a decade apart, we might see one another and be able to say, “I saw those eyes, and I just knew that I knew you”?

Oct 072012

Today is the 14th anniversary of the night Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten, tied to a fence, and left for dead. I’m tempted to write more, but want to leave it with this poem, written by Leslea Newman, as part of the October Mourning project.

Matthew Shepard’s beating and death brought a lot of attention to hate crimes against LGBTQ people. While attention has been raised, and the Matthew Shepard Act against hate crimes has since been passed, we still have a long way to go. More on that in a later post. . .

The Fence
(that night)

I held him all night long
He was heavy as a broken heart
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing

He was heavy as a broken heart
His own heart wouldn’t stop beating
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood

His own heart wouldn’t stop beating
The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood
I tightened my grip and held on

The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
We were out on the prairie alone
I tightened my grip and held on
I saw what was done to this child

We were out on the prairie alone
Their truck was the last thing he saw
I saw what was done to this child
I cradled him just like a mother

Their truck was the last thing he saw
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
I cradled him just like a mother
I held him all night long

Jul 182012

Quindlen quote

I came across this image on Facebook today, and it’s been kind of boring a hole into my brain ever since.  I found myself thinking, after posting it, about all of the stories I’ve heard about parents whose kid’s coming out completely changed the way they understood gender identity and sexual orientation.  For instance, just recently I read this powerful story about a Southern Baptist minister’s experience at the realization that his son had AIDS.  Though there are a good number of stories about homeless teens whose parents kicked them out when the youth came out, more and more it seems we are hearing stories of parents who’ve become advocates upon hearing that their child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

After re-posting the image to my Facebook wall, I found myself trying to write a caption on the image, or comment on it – to somehow clarify that I know that parents will say things that their children will take to heart, to acknowledge that I’ve unintentionally hurt someone by making a short-sighted comment about a particular group, without realizing the offended person was a part of said group.  I then thought maybe I should just not post the image, or give a longer explanation about why I posted it, for fear of unintentionally alienating someone who may feel some residual guilt for whatever they may have said at some point in time.  My caption then seemed like it would be a better blog post…

The reason I decided to go ahead and post it is because it points out the particularities associated with GLBT people, particularly with GLBT youth.  Because the development of identity and self-recognition is an evolving process, many GLBT people may not realize they are queer until they are into their teenage years, or even older – many who do realize it at a younger age often don’t come out until they are older.  By that time, they’ve already soaked up a lot of the values of their parents and their environment (school, church, tv, etc).  Coming out is scary enough in itself – it can be downright terrifying if you’ve heard only negative associations with queer people.  Though the world is changing, there is still an overwhelming amount of negative talk around GLBT people – that kind of talk can weigh on a person after a while, and that weight can add up.  Ideally, children will be born into a world and brought up in homes where they know it’s safe to be who they are.

But . . . well, children are human, and are raised by humans; as such, it is inevitable that they will come out of childhood with some baggage – it’s all part of the complexity of being in relationship.  Life and love are complicated – they just are.

Words matter.  It is important that parents know that, when they say hurtful things about LGBT people, they may be saying hurtful things about their children.

Words matter.  Just as they can hurt, they can also heal; and, there is a whole lot to be said for a parent’s willingness to say “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that my words hurt you, or if anything I’ve said has in any way implied that I do not fully love you as you are.”

I have a good friend who once told me that she found a tremendous amount of freedom in recognizing that she could apologize to her children – that in being able to genuinely say “I’m sorry” for something she had done, she acknowledged to her child, and to herself, that she didn’t have to be perfect – that adults (parents even!) could mess up, too.  In that willingness, she was also telling her children that they didn’t have to be perfect, that they would make mistakes, they would hurt one another, and be hurt by one another – and that grace and forgiveness would abound even in those moments.

Grace and forgiveness abound, even in those moments when we fear we have said something that cannot be taken back, even when our shame or fear or pain make it hard to forgive ourselves – grace and forgiveness abound.