Week 9 Supplement: The Power of Belovedness

The Power of Belovedness

I have been serving as an advocate for LGBTQ+ people for a long time. But as a mainly straight person, it took me a long time to really understand, at a deep-gut level, what being an ally was all about and what Pride celebrations were all about.  And I have to wonder if maybe some other kind, well-meaning straight people might be in a similar boat.

My lack of “getting it” wasn’t because I didn’t care about LGBTQ+ people.  It wasn’t because I was homophobic or transphobic. It wasn’t because I didn’t know the right language to use. It wasn’t because I was hung-up on scripture. It wasn’t because I was a hateful bigot.

My lack of “getting it” probably wasn’t even readily apparent. Afterall, I was serving in ministry to cultivate places where LGBTQ+ Christians could connect with God and with each other.  There was certainly some theological unlearning to do and the ministry has evolved fairly radically over the years. But the deep understanding I needed wasn’t really about those things.

It was a lot more personal than that.

Truth is, I had internalized the idea that God was oppressive. Oh, I wouldn’t have worded it that way. But somehow it became my assumption that God would constantly and consistently expect and demand hard things of me, that suffering was the dominant motif in the Christian life, and that my personhood really only existed so that I could submit and surrender it to God.

Truth is, my being was rife with internalized misogyny.  Women were second class citizens in most of the contexts I found myself in – including church.

Truth is, I was riddled with shame. “Don’t get too big for your britches.”  “Who do you think you are?” “How dare you?”

I didn’t really “get” what being an ally was or what Pride celebrations were really all about because I wasn’t an ally to myself and I couldn’t conceive of a Pride celebration for someone like me.

And I have to wonder, when I hear the tone-deaf refrain, “When are we going to have a Straight Pride month?”, that mixed in with all the resentment, and lack of awareness, and potentially toxic mix of fear and disgust, if there isn’t a cauldron full of self-hatred and shame lurking.

I am grateful for all that I have learned about dynamics of privilege and power. It has profoundly impacted how I understand the incarnation of Jesus. And it has helped me understand how essential integrating an anti-oppressive lens is. But, if something hadn’t shifted in that deep place within me where self-hatred and shame resided, I’m not sure that just learning about these things would have really helped.

What really shifted and changed everything was practicing and choosing to live into my belovedness.

Intellectually, I’ve known my whole life that God loved me. But how can you receive love from your oppressor? Stockholm syndrome has revealed some of the crazy things that happen to our minds when we’re trying to survive – but the sense of loyalty and commitment that can arise in these situations aren’t anything close to the power of true love.

The problem wasn’t with God.

The problem was with my conception of God.

And it was LGBTQ+ people who helped me deconstruct the violent and oppressive conception that held me captive.  I always believed that the church was impoverished if LGBTQ+ people were missing. But it was witnessing their courage and resilience and sometimes defiance to take their rightful place as beloved children of God that moved something deep within me – and imperceptibly it began to take root in my own heart.

“I am beloved of God.”

It has become the refrain of the Generous Space community. And every day I see it taking root in hearts and changing people’s lives. For some of us, it isn’t an easy thing to live into this truth consistently. But that is where I see the beauty of our community as we affirm and speak this into each other’s lives again and again and again. Knowing I am beloved isn’t a silver bullet for all human struggles. We still share the pain of mental illness and emotional anguish. We still long for deeper wholeness. We still grapple with finances and housing. We still ache from broken relationships. But, living into our belovedness reminds us that we are worthy of dignity and respect. We deserve to know and be known in a safe and loving community. And we are held by a God who works for our good. And for many of us, that is a huge change indeed.

So when I reflect on all of this, the transformation I have experienced and witness everyday in the Generous Space family, I stand in awe of the power of belovedness.

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Week 9 Devotional: Connecting To God Out of Fear

Connecting to God out of Fear

Out of desperation, I imagine, Moses’ mother made a basket out of papyrus, tar, and pitch. Pharaoh wanted her son dead; she wanted to ensure his survival (Exodus 2).

After being placed in the raft-for-one, Moses floated to Pharaoh’s daughter. The irony is uncanny. Moses, a Hebrew-born Israelite, became what we would consider Pharaoh’s adopted grandson. Pharaoh, as you may know, was an Egyptian ruler who enslaved Moses’ people.

I can imagine Pharaoh’s daughter reaching into the basket.

But I wish I could take account of Moses’ experience of being picked up and out of that papyrus basket, or even a newborn’s perspective of being plucked out of a crib. Developmental theorists like Jean Piaget claim that in a sensorimotor stage, wherein an infant has no concept of self or other, it must feel as though parents are God-like figures who swoop down to pick us up when we coo, cry, or need relief from our discomforts. According to psychosocial theorist Erik Erickson, it is when these God-like parental figures develop timely response patterns to infants’ cries that children learn to trust not only the power of their own cries, but also the safety provided by their attentive parents. Crying initiates soothing results. In other words, infants in healthy relationships will grow to trust the God-like figures who swoop in to acknowledge and meet their needs.

In unhealthy circumstances, however, our dependencies may leave us more confined than safe. In this light, those who protect us may very well become the ones who control us.

For example, I spend many hours talking with children of religious parents who negotiate, plan for, and often strategize their coming out processes. As a means of creating tranquility, they describe patterns they have unknowingly fallen into- maintaining their parents’ happiness by hiding their authentic selves. To them, it is beneficial to disguise their genuine selves as a way to preserve their parents’ peace and familial cohesion. To these children—one of which I was—pretending is better than flat-out rejection.

Their hidden pattern directed towards their parents is designed to beguile with self-denial. They either subconsciously or overtly believe they maintain belonging and stability by buffering, filtering, and hiding their genuine personhood. They articulate a profound, yet subtle statement of dependency gone awry: those who protect us often control us.

Truth be told, many LGBTQ+ children have connected to their parents out of fear instead of safety.

As children who were often swooped up by a God-like figure from cribs, bassinets, and car seats, we develop a type of safety (either stable or weak) that extends into adolescence and young adulthood. The coming out process forces us to reckon with, and often assess, the type of safety we have grown to call enough. Some of us come out with complete confidence in our parents’ unwavering love; sadly, many others of us cannot trust our parents because they have shunned us with angry and hardened hearts. Their safety is revealed as limited and condition-based.

I would imagine Moses felt the same way. He was, after all, a Hebrew child growing up in an anti-Israelite Egyptian home. In fact, after killing an Israelite-abusing Egyptian, Moses ran away because Pharaoh wanted him dead. One might assume Moses would receive a royal pardon, especially as a member of Pharaoh’s family. Instead, Moses was forced to flee to Midian for safety. The familiar echo resounds: those who protect us often control us.

Here, many of us may relate with Moses—the man who found refuge in a faraway city and the one who fearfully covered his face from God at the burning bush. He, too, may have had a fickle sense of safety. But unlike Moses, who encountered God directly, we still fear for our worth. We, too, might feel like an outsider living in a tyrant’s home, all the while believing perfection will keep the overlord cool, calm, and collected.  When the relational Red Seas part because of the emotional battles we wage, particularly in the process of coming out or living out, you may seriously question if, to God, you are the Israelite being saved or the Egyptian about to drown. In our attempt to play the present-day role of the Israelites, many of us aim for perfection because we fear God’s answer.

Our perfectionism—an idealized litany of standards that rob us of experiencing true safety—will produce shame. Where shame exists, we will find fear. Where fear exists, we will create a durable façade. And when we believe and trust in our façades, we lose the power to connect to others genuinely and intimately. On the most subconscious, foundational level, we will starve to be accepted and perpetually wonder if we’ll ever be good enough.

When life’s circumstances take us down the river of turmoil, we will question whether or not our raft is bound by buoyant love or destined to dissolve in certain conditions. Many of us who have feared coming out, as well as the parents, allies, and clergy who dared to love us unconditionally, question whether or not to trust an Abba parent or fear what feels like the tyranny of an overlord.  

Many of us believe God is more pleased by our perfectionism than our fallible humanity.

Trusting God with who we are does not mean we tense up, cross our fingers, close our eyes, and hope that everything turns out just fine. Trusting God means falling in love with the way we are loved by God, and then loving ourselves with the same liberating, radical acceptance.

Questions for this week's devotional:

  1. Are you brave enough to love yourself like God loves you?

  2. Have you connected to God out of fear? If so, are you willing to replace perfectionism with self-love even while you are perfectly imperfect?

  3. Can you support another who might achieve for perfection's sake, particularly to facilitate their journey towards discovering a felt sense of inherent value?

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Ask a question about feeling safe with God

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Written by Paula Williams, Q Christian Fellowship Board Member

November 20 marks an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance in the United States.

In 2018, 22 transgender individuals have been murdered in the United States this year. Almost all have been young transgender women of color. Globally, between Oct. 2017 and September 2018, there are 369 cases of reported killings of trans and gender-diverse people (TransRespect.org). This constitutes an increase of 44 cases over the prior year and an increase of 74 over two years prior (TransRespect.org).

Under the current political climate within the U.S., violence against the transgender population has been on the increase. When federal employees in the U.S. are instructed to stop enforcing existing regulations protecting the rights of transgender workers, you know we have a problem. When legislation has been proposed seeking that the United States should only recognize the gender listed on one’s birth certificate, we have a problem. And when irresponsible political rhetoric causes increased violence, we have more than a problem. We have a travesty.

I am a transgender woman of privilege, with opportunities for employment, influence and friendship. I have a supportive family. I have been able to travel freely with very little concern for my safety beyond that experienced by any female. But with the escalating rhetoric against transgender people, I am more frightened than at any time since I transitioned. I can only imagine how difficult it is for transgender women and men of color.

The problem goes deeper than the violence done to the transgender community by outsiders. The atmosphere created by the religious right and the current political climate has wounded transgender people deep within their own souls. Did you know that the most common reason for post transition suicidal ideation is the internalization of transphobia?

We are not immune to the messages of our culture, casting us as a population that should be legislated out of existence. We know rhetoric is not empty. As we’ve seen with the bombers and shooters who have recently targeted politicians on the left and sexual and racial minorities, words incite violence.

Those words also burrow deep within our own psyches. When there are blatant attempts to legislate us out of existence, no wonder so many transgender people internalize those words in ways that can be dangerous to our own wellbeing.

Last week I learned from a tribe member that the Ojibwa people have seven gender identifiers. Many other Native American tribes have five. All of them celebrate and revere those they call "Two Spirit" people. I find it fascinating that those who never heard the story of Jesus are more like Jesus than the Christians who have sold their souls for political power.

During this week of remembrance, we pray for the many who have lost their lives in 2018, and we pray that all Americans, and especially evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, will learn to follow our better angels and stop the violence against all transgender people.

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Week 8 Devotional: Never Unclean

Never Unclean

My partner and I sat across the table from my father at our favorite restaurant. We had just finished breakfast. My father counted down from 3 and told us to smile. He snapped a photo with his new camera. It was the first photo that my father took of us. More than that, it was the first time my father made a gesture that acknowledged I was in a relationship with another man.

My father and mother have been pastors most of my life. They have lived their lives steeped in the tenants of the Assemblies of God, preaching to the largely Hispanic/Latinx congregations they’ve started over the years. It was in this context that my coming out led us into awful and often angry debates surrounding the cause of homosexuality and the “choices” I did or did not have in the matter.

Our arduous and painful debates affirmed my early understanding of my parents’ sexual ethics, particularly around homosexuality. I knew where they stood theologically. According to my resentment-based assessment, they had written off my sinful soul some time ago.

Angrily, I had made my assumption because it was customary to hear my parents preach anti-LGBTQ sermons promoting the perception that anyone in the LGBTQ+ community was a deviant and unwelcome in their place of worship. Their position of the early 2000s felt static. And after all those years, even after coming out, I assumed it was still the same.

It was not until a recent phone call with my parents—inspired by Q Christian’s side-by-side dialogue—that I got to talk about my fear during those sermons and the months before and after my coming out. As I told them about how I planned on them kicking me out of the church, family, and our home, my mother gasped in disbelief. In response to those memories, both my mother and father repeated more times than I could count, “You are inherently valuable and I love you because you are my son.”

My assumptions of my worth and their theological positions had been off-kilter, after all. Our story mimics one we read about in Acts 10.

God had taken two men with differing religious backgrounds, Peter and an Italian named Cornelius, on a similar journey.

Cornelius prayed to God and gave gifts to the Jewish people in his community. After being heard by God, God orders Cornelius to send for a man named Peter—a man who was a devout Jew. About the same time Cornelius is getting his instructions from God, Peter has a vision where he is instructed to eat animals that were considered to be unclean according to Jewish law. Like any God-fearing Jew, Peter, in his vision, refuses to eat the animals. God speaks to him once more: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). Peter has no clue what this vision is designed to teach him.

The next day Peter meets Cornelius’ men and they travel back to the Italian community of Caesarea, where Cornelius and others assembled to hear from Peter. Upon arrival and out of confusion, Peter inquires as to why he’s been summoned by God. Cornelius tells him how he had been praying and giving gifts, and that he had received the instruction from God. Cornelius was vulnerable in sharing his story in front of Peter. Because of Cornelius’ honesty, Peter realized the true meaning of his vision.

We read in Acts 10:34, “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.’” Both Cornelius and Peter’s vulnerabilities and actions were necessary for the two of them to see one another differently.

Both of them had learned the message my parents reaffirmed on our phone call: We belong in God’s family because we are all inherently valuable.

What I find more interesting is that God used two members of different faith backgrounds, in the ancient text and in the present day, to convince one another, through a series of circumstances, visions, and acts of faith, that all are inherently valuable: I feel loved because my parents looked past my identity and beliefs and cherished my inherent value. I love them, not for what they believe, but because they play an irreplaceable role in my life.

It wasn’t our commonalities that compelled us to believe in God’s expansive love; it was our differences. Let us not call anything unclean that God has made holy, not even one another.

Questions for this week's devotional:

  1. Have you embraced your inherent value?

  2.  How might God be calling you to see something as clean even when it seems unholy, either about yourself or your neighbor?

  3. How might you need to embrace the inherent value of another, even if they are your theological, political, or social opposite?

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Ask Us a Question about Inherent Value

Week 7 Devotional- An Alabaster Moment

An Alabaster Moment

I walked into a room of men who had recently been released from prison. I was an intern working at a court-ordered treatment facility. My classes as a seminarian were filled with lessons on the beauties of vulnerability. Seeing emotional openness through rose-colored lenses, I assumed the men in my group would hold similar views.

I opened up our group discussion with a very simple question: “What does vulnerability mean to you?”

At the time, I was shocked by their responses. They characterized vulnerability as weakness and something to avoid. They told me about all the measures they had taken to avoid vulnerability. They needed to remain protective at all times.

As I listened to their tales smattered with the stains of abandonment, rejection, and pain, I quickly learned that vulnerability in an unsafe environment can be lethal. Emotionally, many of them had been imprisoned long before their sentence began.

True, many of us have never been inside a jail cell—but maybe we are emotionally imprisoned just the same.

Those of us in the LGBTQ+ community and our allies have experienced the pangs and tragedies of vulnerability gone wrong. We have been rejected by families and religious spaces. Choosing authenticity has often meant choosing isolation and hyper-vigilance. Vulnerability, for many reasons, has become a practice to avoid.

In safe spaces and with trustworthy people, however, the process of vulnerability can be rather life-giving. I often rehearse a line that has changed my approach to relationships: Trust the process of vulnerability. This mantra of sorts not only helps me adjust my emotional posture when I’d rather bask in the temporary power of pride, but it has also become a way of life.

Vulnerability comes in two distinct forms. One receives from the world. This is the type of vulnerability that requires humility to learn and be teachable. Receiving feedback, taking criticism, and being called out by those wiser than me are the moments when trusting the process of vulnerability is the hardest, but ultimately incredibly rewarding.

The other type of vulnerability gives to the world. We use this type of vulnerability to share our stories, our pain, and our insecurities. Emotional vulnerability creates connectedness, relational intimacy, and experiences of being known.

Simon the Pharisee and the woman who washed Jesus’; feet in Luke 7 demonstrate both of these types of vulnerability. Simon is critiqued by Jesus. He has not been the best host and Jesus compares him to a sinner. Simon stands exposed and takes a lesson from Jesus.

The woman, who seems to have admired Jesus a great deal, washes his feet with her tears, kisses his feet, and even rubs them with perfume from her alabaster jar. Taking a position of utter humility, she shares her affection for Jesus with a bold and sincere demonstration. I call it an alabaster moment.

Just like the woman’s alabaster jar that held the perfume poured upon Jesus’; feet, the process of vulnerability holds something precious.

Once we find ourselves exposed, whether to learn or to share, we have to trust that the openness is for our betterment. We have to push through the initial fear long enough to see vulnerability soften our pride, soothe our fears, and create safety. We begin to notice that vulnerability actually heals wounds, inspires trust, and creates intimacy. And when I am open and honest, it liberates another to do and be the same. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.

It is true that, in an unsafe environment, vulnerability can lead to an emotionally, spiritually, or relationally lethal situation. But, in a safe and trustworthy environment, vulnerability produces life.

Sharing our stories and learning from the variety of perspectives we find at Q Christian Fellowship gives us the opportunity to trust the process of vulnerability. Walking side by side with all our stories, ranging from Side A to Side B and beyond, requires pushing past our assumptions and fears, our pride and comfort zones. It requires learning from each others history and wisdom, but also begs for your bold and sincere demonstrations of openness.

We welcome your stories.

The Side B story belongs. Side B community member, you are our sibling. Your wisdom is cherished and your perspective is honored.

The Side A story belongs. Side A community member, you are our sibling. Your wisdom is cherished and your perspective is honored.

If your position doesn’t fit neatly in Side A or Side B, your story belongs. You are our sibling. Your wisdom is cherished and your perspective is honored.

If you’ve never heard of these terms before, your story belongs. You are our sibling. Your wisdom is cherished and your perspective is honored.

May we take bold and sincere steps to learn from one another and strengthen our community as beloved children of God, side by side. Practicing Love Undivided is our opportunity for another great alabaster moment. We all hold something precious. Let us share.

Questions for this week's devotional:

  1. In what areas of life might you take measures to guard yourself from vulnerability?

  2. How might another grow from and find safety in your demonstrations of vulnerability? In other words, how might your story be a gift to another?

  3. Is there an area where you are hungry to have more vulnerability? If so, where?

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Week 6 Supplement- Erasing Otherness

David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland, Oregon. He and his husband, Constantino, are the authors of Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage, forthcoming from Westminster John Knox Press, January 2019. The book will be made available for purchase on Amazon.

No matter where we exist in society, each of us is susceptible to diminishing the other. I was reminded of this one day while I was walking home from the gym and passed a dead bird on the sidewalk. It was a baby bird, not quite a fledgling, that looked as if it had fallen out of its nest. One leg was crooked, and there were a couple of flies on it. I cringed, stepped past the carcass, and muttered one word to myself: gross.

I walked half a block, stopped, and turned around. I’m not sure why. Maybe I figured I would kick it away from the sidewalk or find a piece of cardboard to scoop it into a nearby trash can. When I returned, the bird was still there, motionless, accumulating more flies. I bent over and, on a hunch, blew softly on it. The bird moved. It fluttered its fuzzy wings and kicked its little legs, even the one that looked broken. It shook the flies off itself and opened its beak, gasping for air.

In that moment, my whole perception of the bird shifted. It was not something disgusting to be kicked aside or thrown in the trash. It was a creature that was injured and in pain, a creature desperate for help. Far from being gross, it was something to be sheltered and protected. With one little breath, the bird went from being a thing to being a being.

How did my attitude toward the bird turn so suddenly? What caused the shift? The bird hadn’t changed; only my perception of it had. The difference: I saw the life in it.

How often do we fail to see the life in other people? We do it with staggering frequency, every time we distance people from us by classifying them as other. On a macro level, we treat people as other when they are from a different country, or ethnicity, or religion, or region, or college, or political party. On a micro level, we dismiss individuals because they are weird, or poor, or ugly, or fat, or differently abled. It’s easy to categorize people; we’ve been doing it since we were children choosing tables in the cafeteria at lunch.

But the more we wedge otherness between us and those we don’t like or understand, the less humanity we see in them. This sense of otherness is the great chasm that still divides the LGBTQ community and the conservative church. By casting out queer Christians and the people who love them, the church has created a duality of in and out, a dividing line between those who are following God and those who, presumably, are misled. And the more barriers we put between us and another, the harder it is to see the light of the other person’s spirit, the easier it is to see them as aberrant and abhorrent, and the easier it is to withhold our empathy.

What’s the most common reaction of a person who has never seen two men kiss? Gross. Growing up as a kid in the 1980s, I heard it a thousand times. Gross. Is the only explanation for this visceral reaction that the act of two men kissing is inherently sinful and wrong? Or could it be that church and culture have created so much distance between themselves and the others that they are too far away to recognize a simple expression of love as anything but gross? When we disassociate ourselves from people, they stop being beings and become things. They are dead birds, worthy of nothing but a trash bin.

This is why we see our relationship as one small contribution to a larger mission. As the number of LGBTQ marriages in the world grows, that foreignness people feel toward queer couples will start to diminish. Normalization, however, is only the first step. The hard work in healing the divide is in getting to know those who would reject us and showing them our humanity. Someone can’t be other when we’re doing life together. Someone can’t be gross when we’ve glimpsed the unfiltered, authentic humanity in them. This, of course, requires a willingness on both sides to see and be seen.

If only the church would look in the direction of LGBTQ people and watch them take a breath—see them kick and flutter, fighting for life in a hostile world. What a shift in perception the church would experience. Once we see the humanity in people, it’s impossible to dismiss them as things. No person could be gross, for each is a living, breathing reflection of God.

It’s important here to point out that progressive Christians also fall into the trap of labeling their conservative siblings as the other. Let us not extol ourselves as the nouveau righteous and dismiss those who for so long have dismissed us. If we hope for others to acknowledge our humanity, we must work to see theirs. Those on opposite ends of the theological spectrum or political aisle also flutter and kick in ways we may not see.

As for the actual bird, I contacted a local avian society and followed their instructions: I carefully scooped the bird into a box, then placed it beneath some shrubs for protection. The rest, they said, should be left to Mother Nature. The next time I passed that spot, the bird was gone. I wonder about it every time I go by, because I became invested in it—because for one moment in time we shared life together, and the heart doesn’t easily forget.

Excerpted from Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage, © 2019 David and Constantino Khalaf. Used by permission of Westminster John Knox Press.

  1. What thoughts and feelings come up when you think of the bird in the author’s story?

  2. Who in your life have you seen as "gross," sinful, or unworthy of your empathy? Have you felt that way about yourself?

  3. God sees the life and beauty in you at all times, even when you don’t recognize it yourself. In what ways can you begin to see yourself and others through God’s loving eyes?

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