My mama, who could fry some of the best damn chicken you ever put in your mouth, never taught me to cook. She taught me a lot of things, but she just couldn’t tolerate a constantly questioning kiddo scrambling around her kitchen as she tended to her cast iron skillets and perfectly sweetened pitchers of iced tea.
She did teach me how to assemble pretty outfits, carefully mixing and matching shirts and skirts so that no one would know I was wearing the same things over and over again. She taught me how to apply makeup, with lashes long and dark so that my eyes didn’t look naked and my lips were lined and colored beyond their nearly invisible pink. She taught me how to curl my hair, choosing just the right strands to pull straight away and then slowly wind the curling iron as close to my scalp as I could stand. She tried her best to teach me “the right way” to be a girl, a woman. When I went to University she wanted me to only study secretarial work. When I chose world religions as my academic path, she said college ruined me. And later, way later, when I came out as a lesbian, all of her own self-rejection and fear based faith attempted to persuade me that I was unworthy of God’s love – an abomination better dead that gay.
This morning, standing in my Dutch bathroom, my eyes brimmed as I watched my hands carefully choose just the right strands of hair and gently line my lips with the perfect blend of rose, the old wounds and longing for my mother in ways that she would never love me, came flooding back.
As a queer Christian who happily left the U.S. with her wife for reasons such as the politically motivated anti-LGBT religious landscape (among other reasons), it is with a wounded but encouraged heart that I am watching as a handful of Dutch protestant clergy regurgitate the toxic language of the Nashville Statement here in Holland.
In a nutshell, the Statement, both here and in the States is a theologically negligent and dangerous statement ushered by a handful of religious leaders. The statement makes erroneous claims that reject the sacred worth and civil rights of LGBT children of God. I honestly, in my honeymoon phase with Holland, had thought we’d left behind this ignorance and hatefulness for good.
This flare up of homophobia masquerading as Christianity in this largely secular nation has been deeply disappointing. But the good news is how much more encouraging it is to see municipalities across the country, businesses in every town and individuals near and far call out the statement for what it is – backwards bigotry plain and simple. I am particularly and deeply grateful for language such as “radicalized” being applied to “Christian” groups. It is rarely if ever applied to Christianity in the States and is typically reserved for fear mongering against our Muslim brothers and sisters.
I love my life in Leiden and since moving here have felt more at home than I ever did in my nearly 50 years in America. Here I have felt consistently happier, safer and more secure than the false promises of the American Dream. So too have my wife and I been radically freer to be fully and openly ourselves, without fear or apology. We have made a true and lasting home here.
As it turns out, I have the honor of pastoring a small, English-speaking congregation that is diverse and beautiful and growing in our understanding of who we are as a community. Sojourners’ Fellowship is a small community of people from many spiritual paths who come together to pause and explore life’s great questions through diverse contemplative practices and thoughtful dialogue.
Here is a statement of our guiding framework as inspired by the 8 Points of Progressive Christianity.
As a community we:
1. Believe in the Sacred Oneness and Unity of all life;
2. Affirm that the teachings of many religious and secular traditions, including but not limited to the teachings of Jesus, provide ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
3. Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
Believers, agnostic and questioning skeptics,
Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
Those of all races, nationalities and religious backgrounds,
Those of all classes and abilities;
4. Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;
5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;
6. Hope for peace and justice among all people;
7. Hope to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;
8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.
ALL who come in peace are welcome, including but not limited to: believers, agnostics and questioning skeptics; those of all sexual orientations and gender identities; those of all races, nationalities, classes and abilities.
In this light, and inspired by the Denver Statement by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, I’ve crafted my own article-by-article response to the Nashville Statement to share with my Dutch neighbors. If you have the time and inclination, read on and please, please, please share your thoughts in the comments below after you’ve had time to ruminate a bit.
It’s not a short read, so maybe go make yourself a glass of sweet tea, grab a buttery biscuit and settling in for the long haul.
A Sojourners’ Statement
Jesus-loving people, Christians and people from many of the worlds traditions who are inspired by the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, understand that we live in a beautiful, challenging, paradigm-shifting era. Humanity is in the midst of an arduous and exciting journey to more fully understand what it means to be human. People around the world are doing the hard and faithful work of shedding misconceptions and limitations imposed by religiosity that is meant to control rather than love. More and more people, regardless of tradition, find delight in the wild diversity of God’s good creation.
Unfortunately, there are still many people who deny the divine spark in every corner of creation and use their religion to draw lines of demarcation around race, nationality, ability, gender identity or sexuality. It is now commonplace among theologically uninformed Christians to use the Bible as a weapon, especially when it comes to their unfortunate idolatry of one collection of texts written by humans thousands of yeas ago. In their limited understanding, they are wronging convinced that they alone, clearly and for all time, hold the single truth of God’s design and desire.
This spirit of misinterpreting and enforcing scripture has always brought with it great challenges for Christians. From historical sanctions of slavery, subjugation of women, segregation, nationalism and xenophobia, the church has frequently lost site of the radical message of love and grace made known in the Incarnation of Christ who was eventually executed by the state at the urgings of the religious elite.
If the church is to genuinely live into the message and example of Jesus’ life, it must make a bold and prophetic proclamation of the love of God from which nothing, nothing, nothing on earth can separate humans.
We affirm that humanity is created out of and for the purpose of love.
We deny that the gift of love and marriage is limited only to people who identify as heterosexual, cis-gendered, and seeking to conceive.
We affirm that humans are created as sexual beings in kaleidoscope variety.
We deny that the only sexual expression that is sacred is between legally, church-married, cis-gendered, heterosexual couples.
We affirm that all humans are created Imago Dei – in the image of God – and that God is all genders and no gender.
We deny that human bodies, hearts and minds are limited by any one religion’s faltering attempt to understand the holy mystery of the Divine.
We affirm the diversity of gender and sexual expression is a reflection of the divinely creative diversity of all of creation.
We deny that such diversity is in any way a result of one religion’s interpretation of a falling away from God.
We affirm that humans continuing to evolve in their understanding of what it means to be embodied is good and holy.
We deny that gender is unalterably linked with biology.
We affirm that all humans, regardless of their biological birth and development are image-bearers of the divine.
We deny that variations of embodiment limits anyone from thriving in faith, love and society.
We affirm that compassion, love and liberation are at the heart of God’s holy purposes in creation as revealed in Christian scripture AND the shared texts of the world’s religious traditions.
We deny that any one tradition has figured out once and for all what it means for humans to live into loving relationships.
We affirm that people who experience same-sex attraction may live an abundant life that honors God and is evidence of faith in Jesus.
We deny that same-sex attraction in any way alienates a person from the love of God or the hope of the Gospel.
We affirm that sin is a trifold separation from self, others and God that distorts the beauty of creation.
We deny that sin is avoided by adhering to any specific doctrine or litany of purity laws.
We affirm that the church lives in sin when LGBT people are told to deny how God created them, are cast out of families, excommunicated by congregations and denied basic civil and human rights.
We deny that it is sinful to be loving allies to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children of God.
We affirm that it is our human duty to stand on the side of justice in the name of love in all times and for all people.
We deny the false dichotomy of being either gay or Christian.
We affirm that the unconditional love of the Divine has the power to transform self-loathing (as taught by many in the church and society) into true and lasting self-acceptance and wholeness.
We deny that same-sex attraction is a sin or illness for which to be forgiven or healed.
We affirm that Grace invites uninformed, prejudiced or bigoted people to evolve and recognize that human understanding as limited and we will only ever see through the glass darkly.
We deny assertions of any one person, church, denomination or religion that they hold pure and absolute knowledge of the Divine.
We affirm that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice and that we are called to partner with the Divine in that bending.
We deny any anthropomorphization of God.
If you would like to add your name to this statement, please indicate so and enter your information in the comments below. And if you are in the neighborhood and so inclined, please join us next Thursday, January 17th at Galerie Café Leidse Lente in Leiden from 5:30-7 p.m. for Pub Theology where we can talk about all these things and more.
All the energy and time spent by some “conservative Christians” focusing on “homosexual practice” is antithetical to the life, death and resurrection of the One we call Christ.
There are many things Jesus asks of us as Kingdom builders, but sexual policing is not one. I sincerely hope everyone who is called to the life of Christian witness and service can direct their passion for God by talking and doing what Jesus explicitly asks of us such as clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned and welcoming the stranger.
It is a challenging message to hear, and an even harder message to live. In revealing the true nature of God – love – unearned, unqualified, unending love – our Jesus brought down the deadly wrath of the sanctimonious, legalistic religious elite who plotted with powers of the state to execute what they feared the most, Love. What’s so scary about Love? Those who lust after power use fear to control. And as we’ve heard, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” 1 John 4:18
Let us have compassion for those who are obsessed with the sexuality of other people, for in their obsession, there is deep fear masquerading as faith. Behind that fear is a complex and disturbed psychology about sex – often about one’s own sexuality – in the shadow of the church’s longstanding, perverse need to control people through fear. My heart aches for those bound by this fear and whatever in their personal journey has festered into egregiously negative obsession and about what other people do with their bodies. I pray that all who are enslaved by fear may truly hear the message of the One who came to show us God’s radical love and preferential option for Freedom.
So too, let those of us who can, work tirelessly to be a balm for those wounded by misrepresentations of the Good News of Jesus. Let us speak of God’s love in which there is there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
In a culture that is
In love with fear
And afraid of love
Be not afraid
With closed minds
and plugged ears
Shouting “Be afraid!”
Be not afraid
With hardened hearts
And clenched fists
Spitting “Be very afraid.”
Be not afraid
with open wounds
and tear-streaked souls
Crying “I am afraid.”
Be not afraid
For God has
Freed us from fear
And opened us to a love
That leads to abundant life
birth, life, teaching,
death and redeeming love
of Jesus who said;
Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you.
I do not give to you
as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled;
do not be afraid.
All year round, many of us Jesusy types look for ways to be intentional about practicing the presence of God. There are a myriad of books, booklets, websites, podcasts and small groups dedicated to spiritual practices meant to give our wandering minds a compass pointing us toward the Divine. Today I’d like to lift up a groovy little secular book that has frequently reminds me of my connection to the divine in, with and through all things.
How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith is an art journaling book that offers “a variety of prompts and assignments” to help the wonderer and wanderer on their journey. Smith begins by sharing how she herself began the process of putting together this little travel guide.
She says: “This book started with a list that I wrote one night when I couldn’t sleep…these ideas are an accumulation of things that I have learned from various teachers and artists over the years and have become the basis for all of my own exploration.”
I’ve read her list many times and it keeps speaking to me, prodding me, asking questions about who I am as a person of faith and offers me one way of thinking about who I WANT to be as a spiritual being. In this list I also see a pretty cool way of way of “doing church”.
I spoke with Keri years ago when I intended to blog my way through her book (I only got a few assignments in and … squirrel!) and interestingly enough Keri told me that she never intended this work to be about a journey of faith – for her it seems to be wholly about art and about living fully in the world, knowing yourself and the creative potential of your life and connecting deeply with world around you. And folks, for these ears that sounds a lot like practicing the presence of God. Her little projects seem for all the world like great guideposts on this journey of stumbling along trying to hear and follow that holy radical from Galilee.
I do not see the list as a 1-13 Powerpoint to perfect enlightenment, but I do see in the list an invitation for a journey, a process for becoming. Each item has the potential to help me understand my walk of faith in new ways. Neither do I see this list as linear. It seems cyclical, where each item can lead back to another and then another. Interdependent and interwoven.
The list calls me forward but a is also a pretty good map of my past. As a child I was always looking, looking, looking. Wonder and delight were found in the simplest of things – like the seasonal textures of the red clay of Georgia or the endless ways to play in a pink pom-pom adorned mimosa tree. That sense of delight has not gone dark, but one’s vision has a way to narrow as our bones age. I still look – but more and more I am looking in a straight line to what ever the next thing is. The next project, the next grocery list, the next pile of laundry, the next dog walk, the next filling of the dishwasher…
I am aware that I need to slow down and REALLY look.
SO I am starting all over again – looking, looking and looking. And this time, in a brand new country with all new sights, sounds, smells and potential awakenings. I plan to work though this list in a prayerful manner because I am called back to the crazy notion that God is everywhere – in the pages of holy scripture and secular texts, in the overexposed corners of travel photographs and in the bobbing heads of a thousand of daffodils, in the slumping shoulders of a tired neighbor and in the raucous laughter of passing students, in the swarm of happy, hungry faces in the Leiden market and along our morning bike rides through farm land as mist rises from the lush earth.
Once we start looking closely, listening deeply, noticing patters and tracing things to their origins – truly using all of our senses – well, how can we not notice that everything is interesting and laced with a shimmering connective tissue beyond our comprehension. When I am fully in touch with my own existence, in this world now, as a transplanted southern gal living a life previously unimagined in Holland, I have an opportunity to experience a real and true sense of the presence of God. And if I really look and listen to the intersecting lines of my life within me, and if I remember that God is present in every moment, I am invited into the faithful mystery indeterminacy and interdependence.
Ok, enough already, here’s the list. I encourage you to read it a few times, slowly. Think of how you might apply this to your daily life, your bible study, your church attendance and your personal spiritual practices.
I would really love to hear from you on this! Do any of the ideas really speak to you? Which ideas challenge you? Are any off the mark? What would happen if you were to apply this list for one month of church attendance? What would happen if you skipped a month of church, dug into this book as a spiritual practice and looked for ways to practice the presence of God outside the ancient, prescribed forms of your tradition?