In Which There’s More Work to do But I Still Need to Dance

Photo: MO 2015

“Excuse me, do you know what this line is for?” I asked the last person standing in a line outside the Supreme Court on Friday.

“Oh, I think it’s just to get into the Supreme Court to walk around as a visitor,” he responded.

“Today’s a good day for that!” I smiled as I joined him in line.

We made small talk and noticed the guy behind us wearing a cool shirt with a rainbow akin to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. We lamented that we both weren’t wearing clothes more celebratory, having just come from work. He handed us rainbow bead necklaces and put on a sparkly green hat. We became friends, walked inside, and started decorating statues of old men with our beads, taking pictures every time, having only gotten yelled at by a security guard once. We took pictures in front of the Supreme Court sign and selfies on the steps outside, thrilled just to be here.

Photo: MO 2015

The energy was electrifying. We walked through the crowds of people who were celebrating- and a few warning angrily of God’s wrath- and began listening to people’s stories. There was the woman who let us pose with her peace statue, a staple she’s carried to the first and second Gulf War protests, HIV/AIDS marches and here to the Supreme Court two years ago to the date to celebrate the end of DOMA. There was the woman next to her who showed us three signs she made. “This one was going to be for if they voted against marriage equality,” she showed us, pointing to a sign that read, “Unite the States of America” in big rainbow colored letters. “This one for if they decided to keep it to the states,” she explained, referencing the sign that read, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” “But instead, I get to hold this!” She exclaimed, bearing a sign that read, “Not just gay, ecstatic!”

There was a man wearing all black with red bike lights tied around his waist, shouting that men who have sex with feces are going to hell, and so are men who have sex with men. “Come on, let’s hug it out!” A guy implored. “This is not a time for hugging,” The man replied back flatly, going back to calling out his warnings against “homosexual acts.”  “I’ll give you a hug!” I called out the imploring hugger and we embraced tightly, while enthusiastic passengers in cars continued to drive past waving, cheering, honking in conviviality.

Tears warmed my eyes thinking about how far we’ve come since 2004, when Massachusetts lead the way by becoming the first state to recognize same sex marriage. My own journey in becoming an ally to the LGBTQAI community began with actual action in 2012, after a dear one shared that growing up they considered committing suicide because of the bitter retaliation they received simply for their sexual orientation. I’d always wanted to become a better ally, and this person’s experience reminded me just how urgently all of our voices are needed for equality. I joined a church with a focus on LGBTQ inclusion, led by a pastor who was a married lesbian. I got involved with Believers for Marriage Equality, a series of videos from people in the faith based community voicing support for marriage equality as we neared election time, in which we Marylanders would vote on marriage equality since protesters garnered twice the amount of signatures needed to place a referendum on the ballot.  On March 1, 2012, same sex marriage was passed by Maryland’s General Assembly, and now on election day, ran the risk of being taken away through Question 6.  I wrote blog posts supporting Question 6 and advocated for it on social media. I went to the Marylanders for Marriage Equality election night watch party and celebrated with newfound friends as Maryland became the first of three states that night to vote in equality. My friendships became more diverse. I went to lectures on marriage equality from a public health perspective (Access to health insurance? Right to visit a sick loved one? Yes, this is why I love public health). I brushed up on the history of marriage equality, got pissed off, and joined organizations that were moving equality forward. I say all this not to call attention to myself, but to hopefully paint a picture of why I will forever remember June 26, 2015, honoring the blood, sweat, and tears of activists who’ve done much more than me to collectively bring us here.

This is a victory.
We made history.
And I am celebrating.

But it didn’t take long for me to see all sorts of social media posts about other injustices going on in our world. Violence in Burundi. Burnings of multiple predominately black Churches. Terrorism in Tunisia. Human trafficking. More details on the Emmanuel AME Shooting. Baltimore County officers shoot and kill unarmed man. The intersectionality of all of these issues- and the actual lives affected by such broad sweeping experiences- demands more action, voices, and public outrage. Even the SCOTUS ruling doesn’t mean everything will be ALL rainbows, as we consider that people who identify as LGBTQ still experience higher rates of poverty, worse health outcomes, bullying and job discrimination compared to those who identify as straight or heterosexual.Societal attitudes also aren’t different overnight just because of the SCOTUS ruling, but as we consider the changing public opinion of gay marriage, going up in public approval rating from 67% to 73% in just this past year alone, I am hopeful that we are indeed “bending toward justice,” to quote Dr. King.

We still have a ways to go in achieving social justice in gender equality, immigration, racial unity, ending war and violence and so many more areas.

But just for right now, I am taking a sabbath to rejuvenate my soul by relishing in what can happen when we collectively organize ourselves into activism. I am listening to others’ stories of what this ruling means to them. I am taking full advantage of every free hug I can get. I am pausing to witness every single rainbow flag I have seen lining the streets of my home city. I am smiling at the increase I’ve seen in the number of hands held by people of the same gender—just in one weekend alone— perhaps because some people who once may have felt unsafe are just beginning to feel as though they can truly be themselves and be respected. I am feeding off this energy I feel as I see people talking to one another, feeling less like strangers and more like the brothers and sisters we truly are. I see an influx of connecting, as perhaps we can ever so slightly stop having to fight for equal marriage and simply get on with the loving and enjoy our cake while we’re at it, too.

I know that even after a wedding, there are still challenges that come, conflicts that arise, differing opinions about important and not-so-important things that must be worked through with grace. And we, too, as a society will have to come back down from the apex high of Friday’s decision. But I know I will be able to return to the peaceful fight for justice with more tenacity, vigor, and passion if you can just let me soak in this sabbath in which I am still celebrating. I may need to take a longer sabbath than some, and some may need more time than me. But come together again we will with just a little more space to tackle these other social justice issues as I slowly loosen my grip from the battle for marriage equality, more room in my hands for activism, strength, a patient heart that understands we are daily writing our histories and though some pages are long and others thin, together, I believe, we are still writing something beautiful.

Now, please, pass the funfetti.

Photo: MO 2015

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The Night Gunshots Interrupted the Birds’ Song

 

MO 2015

MO 2015

It’s my favorite space in the house- the top story bathroom which has a small, rectangular window perfect for catching evening sunsets or for smiling at the moon while brushing your teeth. During the fall, I’ve spent hours taking sunset pictures, all the while my soul coming closer and closer to the present moment until I am in an entranced, gentle place filled with color, wonder, and no words.

Tonight I was having one of those yearnings as I looked outside the window. I opened it wide, feeling slightly warm March air press lightly against my face. I scanned the trees to find the birds, whose brown feathers matched the still bare trees, blending in, yet standing out because of that infectious song. Their lively chatters echoed my souls’ celebrations of this last week of winter, knowing not just by the dates on the calendar, but by their choirs that spring is indeed coming.

I grabbed my camera and began snapping some sunset shots. There were two birds singing shoulder to shoulder, true love birds perhaps. I wanted them to move just one branch over to get that perfect shot of the birds’ silhouettes against the backdrop of a cascading orange and red sky. Just move over. I begged internally. Come on, move a little to the left. Slightly annoyed at a missed opportunity for a “perfect” shot, a still small voice whispered in. “Just watch. Just enjoy this as it is. Stop trying to make everything so perfect. Embrace this as it is, not how you wish it would be.” With that I closed my eyes, to solely focus on the delight of the birds’ song. I lingered in this space for a good 20 minutes before wandering back to my room that connects to this bathroom. I left the window open to keep enjoying the birds while I worked out. The night darkness came over, chirps turning from a mellifluous sonnet to an evening lullaby.

And then I heard three loud bangs, a pause, and a few more bangs. Could that have been…? No. It wasn’t, I reasoned. I lived in an under-resourced area of Baltimore for a year, in which there were a couple shootings around the block that I was fortunate enough not to have been home for. All the bangs I did hear in that neighborhood ended up being kids playing with firecrackers, something that’s fun to do, apparently, even when it’s not July 4th. But there are few kids in my current neighborhood, and the ones I have seen are toddlers, plus the seldom one or two six-year-olds.

A swarm of police and an online crime alert confirmed my fear. Helicopters circled overhead. My roommates and I looked out the window to find several police cars a block and half up the street, in clear view from this top story window. We gave each other tight hugs, talked about our own privilege, talked about longings for peace and justice, talked about the neighborhood in which we live, met with its quirks and joys, marked by outsiders and many insiders as “up and coming,” a seemingly trite phrase that has some grain of truth if one considers “coming” to mean gentrification.

Within the next hour, the police cars became fewer in number. I can still hear the “bang, bang, bang,” noise sharply in my head. I look out the window one last time, wondering at what point the birds had stopped singing. I supposed they could have gone to sleep before the gun shots could disrupt their song. But even now as I type this, I can still hear an insomniac bird making noise, as if to have some company in his or her sleeplessness.

All of this feels so disparate. How did the view from the window go from lingering in the beauty to facing the reality of violence? It’s so hard to acknowledge that this same experience happened in one night. They seem so incongruous, the latter incident being one of disbelief- did all of that really just happen?

Yes, it did. We live in a world in which it is possible to hear the song of birds and cacophony of gun shots in a single night. We live in a world with incredible shades of red and pink and purple nearly every evening. And we live in a world in which damaging floods and hurricanes can come from that same sky. I live in a body with hands that long to hold another’s, limbs that long to wrap themselves around someone, a smile with an upper lip that shows a lot of gumline. And I live in a body that yelled, “Are you fucking kidding me?” to a driver yesterday who got too close to me while I was biking. A body with a brain that thought demeaning, judgmental thoughts towards someone today. A body that once accidentally drove through a red light and hit another human being, the “How could you!?” narrative reverberating not from outside sources, but internally.

So much darkness.
So much light.
So much life.
And so much of this life is that space between the darkness and light. Finding hope in despair, beauty in the presence of pain, something sacred in the midst of the banality. So much of life is seeing it and feeling it all, and still gazing your head upwards, feeling love for your Maker in the midst of walking away from a particular way of practicing this love. 

Tonight as I lay my head, I’m grateful for this Maker that I’ve come to know as God. Grateful for the light, room in my hands to accept both of these incongruous experiences. Grateful that there is something beyond the darkness, a story whose ending pages read of love over hate, joy beyond suffering, of discovering there is room for all of us in this story, that no one is or will be left out or left behind.

And for now, I’m in that space between. The one that has the synonyms and antonyms in the same sentences, and tonight, even the same breaths, encouraged to “just hold on to the way it is tonight and learn to love through the darkness and the light.”

Enough.

After a week of reading and hearing headlines, emails, posts, and radio negative campaign ads, I have one word to say, capitalized and underlined.

ENOUGH.

Rush, please learn to think before you speak and learn the power of forgiveness when you say mean things.

Romney, please get to your know your gay, straight, bi, lesbian, neighbors and realize that they don’t need one more person pointing fingers at them; really we all just need one more person to encourage and love us. And as an aside, if you’re going to make a “Christian” graduation speech, may I suggest adapting from the Sermon on the Mount, not the Mountain of Rejection you’ve voiced of others.

Obama, please stop emailing me daily asking for $3 because I’m sick of scheming up millions for campaign finance when I truly believe character wins over capital ANY day of the week.

And lest I put the blame on others, I will galvanize myself: Otterbein, enough with your cynicism.

ENOUGH.

One soldier committing suicide every day.

ENOUGH.

Another needless gun violence tragedy today.

ENOUGH.

Enough of the name-calling, the negativity, the judgment, the labeling, and complacency too while we’re at it.

Enough of assumption making, enough of pointing fingers (and guns), enough of war, enough of divisiveness.

You know what I’m talking about.

There is a world bursting forth with LOVE just longing to be opened and discovered.

There is a Kingdom big enough for all of us.

It’s time we hold hands. It’s time we link up, arm in arm, go on! I know it might feel silly at first but give it a few seconds and you might feel a tingling in your toes or fingers and it will be holy and beatific and divine.

Yes, yes, go hold hands, go high five, go hug, go laugh, skip and jump with your black, Asian, caucasian, Hispanic, mixed, straight, gay, immigrant, hippie, blue collar, white collar, those who cut off their collars a long time ago, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, haven’t-prayed-in-twenty-years-because you have questions and don’t need trite answers, young, elderly, thirsty, empty, stumbling, bumbling (not sure what that even means), homeless, trafficked, just discovering beauty and grace despite chaos, sisters and brothers.

Yes, On Earth as it is in Heaven.

We can have it a bit of it.

Yes, yes, we can learn that fostering hope instead of further creating division, especially during tender times is an excellent idea.

Yes, yes,we can douse hatred and ignite love with our mouths, our hands, our feet, our very soul.

We can pledge our fealty to loving our neighbor, not our red white and blue embroideries.

We can wave the white flag.

We can throw up peace signs.

We can mourn when our heart is heavy from pain and brokenness and depravity. Better yet, we can mourn together.

And then we can roll down hills together.

And stomp in puddles.

Because we have said ENOUGH to the former and we can now dance in the latter, barefoot and unafraid…

Martin Luther King Memorial
Washington D.C.
April 2012

Transplant.

2/15/12

I couldn’t find the word for it, until I came across it in something I was reading. The author1 was talking about faith stages of being rooted, in transplant, or sprouting. Transplant was exactly where I landed, both spiritually and developmentally- I’m quickly finding the post college world is, well, real…

I’m in a season of life where the old answers and ways of doing things don’t make sense anymore. A season of faith where I have more questions than answers. And. I. love. that. It’s a season of shedding old beliefs and being convicted by new ones. A time of kicking voices out of my head that have done nothing but exhaust me. A time where easy answers and shallow,deduced solutions frustrate me. A time where I feel like a bent puzzle piece, a complete enigma to the Evangelical world. I don’t fit there anymore, at least not in the typical sense of the word. A time in my faith where I can shake my head, and feel frustration, pain, and confusion with verses in the bible (Have you ever read Deuteronomy 22:13-21? I pose a challenge for those who say, “I just do what the Word says”). I can wrestle with each word and its Greek and Hebrew translation, syntax, hermeneutics, and etymology; and then, in the same breath, celebrate with the Psalmist some of my deepest praises and mourn my biggest, “my God, my God, where are you?” moments. It’s a time where I can get so stuck in my own head, my own life, my own self-centeredness, that God will find a way to humbly take the attention away from myself and my life by leading me into wonder and awe— “Do you know who created the Earth? Do you know who chose its size? Can you make the sun rise or the night fall? Have you ever knitted together a snowflake? Can you make the rain fall or the wind blow?” (Job 38) I read that chapter and feel an appropriate sense of smallness, a tiny speck in the midst of grandeur, like looking at the night sky on the clearest of nights, involuntarily dropping my jaw, and whisper a barely audible, but completely appreciative, “WOOOOOWWWWW!”

This is a time where I wrestle with the balance of speaking out about convictions or trying to make peace. I am determined to figure out how to do both, accepting the fact that you can’t please everyone. Stances aren’t everything; relationships are better, and I believe that Jesus’ intentions were for us to be “one” (John 17).

But.

Simply put, I am tired and tired and tired of seeing headlines about the next Christian politician who is outspoken against abortion and homosexuality, as if those are the cruxes of the Christian voter, but silent on the waging of war and global suffering. It’s a time of my life where the only thing I want to pledge my allegiance to is the God of faith, hope, and love. I’ll pray my biggest hopes for this America whose freedoms I’ve come to appreciate and whose priorities I’ve come to question.

It’s a time in my life where I cannot read one more article, or catch one more clip of a radio preacher about women needing to be submissive to their husbands, that men are the only leaders, that women shouldn’t preach/read scripture/have any position of leadership in the church (http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-god-gave-christianity-a-masculine-feel-68385/). Imago dei. In God’s image. We are all created in God’s image, not just half of us. We were all created to be a part of the Kingdom of God and to bring God’s will on Earth as it is in heaven. Not just those with an x and y chromosome. I want my faith journey to be filled with teachings shaped by many colors and dual genders. I want my faith to be shaped by people who don’t even have seminary degrees— the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed. Sometimes I learn more about who God is when someone shares their testimony of finding God in this midst of an HIV diagnosis, or in the gut-wrenching journey of a young woman’s long-awaited freedom from sex trafficking, than when I’m in a Bible study or church service. So while the white man is shouting, I will join other women and I will write. I will pray. I will speak. I will listen (there’s certainly some white man pastors I really dig.) I will ask questions. I will need others to be patient with me. I will need to be patient with others. I will learn. I will be wrong sometimes. I will confess cynicism. I will ask for forgiveness. I will be inspired into action.2

It’s a time in my life where I would sit behind this woman reading the Torah on the subway and think about how I could have just as easily been born to Jewish parents instead of Lutheran. I always smiled at this woman when I used to see her on the way to work. She might have thought I was weird because if there was a seat near her, I’d try to sit there. But anyway, I felt like I had this connection with her— that her God was my God, and my God was her God. That our prayers are heard by the same deity. There is something holy and mysterious and connected about this and I love it. There is so much that we share, I think, ignoring the voices in my head trying to convince me to be a good Evangelical and hand her a tract and explain in four easy steps why, blatantly, her religion is wrong, mine is obviously right, and Jesus proves that.

It’s a time in my life where I cannot read about one more suicide of a young boy or a young girl being bullied because of their sexual identity. I cannot then read about a Christian politician who openly denounced homosexuality in that same town, just a few days prior to a string of suicides. (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/one-towns-war-on-gay-teens-20120202). It’s a time in my life where I see “Is homosexuality a sin?” pamphlets inside subway cars and realized that Christian tracts are now not only trying to tell people how to avoid hell, but how to love the correct gender. “Build love, not walls!!” I want to shout. I look at the cover one more time. “Can it be cured?” I read. I wonder where along the way certain Christians have developed a mentality that’s decided it’s acceptable to treat people like they have some despicable disease, and ponder if we’ve forgotten the dignity Jesus gave to the Lepers with His divine touch. But it’s doesn’t matter since you’re right, I’m wrong, God said it, and that settles it.

It’s a time in my life where I need to stop proclaiming that Evangelicals have logs in their own eyes and accept that I have some two by fours in my own. I hope that together we can take these logs to the lumberjack yard and feed some beavers the grandest feast they’ve ever eaten.

It’s a time in my life where I muse about the mystery of love and marriage. This divine human connection between two people. That we have to learn how to love the other man/woman. It doesn’t come completely natural to pour out true, deep, unwavering love. Love itself to me becomes this holy mystery/experience. Being raw and open and letting someone into your life, forever, deciding the paltry, “so, how many pillows do you sleep with, honey?” to suddenly having this little tiny creature to care after forever. If I’m honest, marriage scares me a little. I’m in no rush to get there. But I do want to get there eventually. It almost seems odd to me. Call me selfish, but from age seven onward I shared my room with a just few stuffed animals and the occasional slumber party friend. In college, my horizons broadened a bit as I had girl roommates who shared everything from make up to Gatorade and swim caps (thank you, Lady Tigers). We would dance to “Single Ladies” while getting ready to go out, and now my current roommate and I have these sporadic nighttime chats and prayer about life in inner city Baltimore. I treasure such moments. But one day, you get married, and it’s like all of that disappears. “Hey honey, it looks like you’re coming home with me tonight….” …And tomorrow night. And the night after tomorrow’s tomorrow. I hope to still go out at least one night when I’m married and still have a sleepover with my best girlfriend; I don’t want to completely lose that sense of laughter and togetherness that comes with pillow talk and a best friend. I hope that when I get married there will be singing in the shower, guests around the dinner table, and a goodnight kiss every night (but please don’t snore!). I hope to learn how to love unselfishly, to build something together, to give everything I have because I want this person to experience all the love, joy, and happiness an imperfect human being can offer. All of these profundities and longings make me smile, as I think about God watching from above and seeing into each house, all of his little creatures, just living life the best way they know how.

It’s a time in my life where I realize that trying to figure out the future will only drive me crazy, and, not to mention, whatever I decide is going to happen in the future, will, in turn, take a twist and throw me something entirely unexpected. I’ve spent months wrestling in my head with career choices, graduate schools, and living abroad. Taking it one step further, the wrestling match explodes into some kind of WWE Smackdown, as I grapple, mull over, and daydream about which country my adopted kids will come from, and how they will be parented, and which country I can move to when I retire, suddenly realizing that I had taken my brain to the year 2036 or some strange number that looks weird on paper, making me scratch my head and think, that cannot possibly be a year. But alas one day that calendar will turn, and New Year’s will ring in 2037, and I’ll be shaking my head wondering where all this time has gone. Bringing myself back to today, the present moment, I unleash myself to God. I stop demanding a cradle-to-the-grave itinerary and when my brain starts to run into years unseen, I remind myself of what I have been promised: a future and a hope.

And so this is transplant. I’m not sure when I’ll be “rooted.” But never the matter. I’m here. And, though I get confused and cry and apologize later for things I shouldn’t have said, I also laugh and smile and make ruckus. I am content. I am happy. I don’t belong with the crowds telling me who I can’t become as a woman; I don’t belong with the crowds who try to convince me what my family, marriage, and faith should all look like (as if God hasnooriginality and forgot to make us all unique). So I’m ok here. I’m ok with where I am. There is freedom here. The door is opening; it’s barely ajar. But I can see it. I can taste it. I can hear it, smell it, breathe it, and it is beautiful. You see, I grew up swimming long, laborious laps in the swimming pool, and there’s this daring in my heart to dive into the deep end and feel cool water and sunlight swirl on my face. So today I think I’ll head out to the ocean instead of the natatorium, and make some waves, because the “no-wake zone” is far behind me; in fact, I can’t even see it anymore. All that’s ahead of me are new sights to see and more shores to swim to. There is plenty of wide open space here, and you can paint with any color brush you choose. Yes, come on in, there’s room for you. And as we run through open fields, I know one day our feet might take to a certain patch of grass in which we will blossom and sprout and plant our flowers. But for right now, I’m in transplant. And I am more alive than ever before.

1 Check out Ed Cyzewski’s Divided We Unite: Practical Christian Unity, available free to subscribers of In.A.Mirror.Dimly.Lit’s Women in Ministry blog: http://inamirrordimly.com/the-women-in-ministry-series-home-page/

2 I’ve been inspired into such action by Sarah Bessey’s post, “In Which I am Done Fighting for a Seat at the Table.”Check it out here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2011/12/fighting-for-a-seat/