The world today is not an easy place to be trans, more so to be a trans child or teen. Just last week my own state senate passed an anti trans athletics bill and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called on professionals to report parents for child abuse who give their kids gender affirming care. My heart sank, my stomach turned in knots. Sadly, similar bills are making their way to the floor in other states as well. It's hard enough to be a trans kid without this added trauma.
The bills we see that seek to ban you from sports or block you from receiving access to medical care to transition are wrong. Full stop. They are another wave of oppressive efforts to use LGBTQ people as pawns for political gain.
Many years ago I was in similar shoes to yours. While I was still figuring out my gender identity, or rather, coming to find words for what I knew deep down, I remember being a closeted queer teenager just trying to get through the day. Meanwhile, the world around me seemed to have us trapped as pawns in a culture war.
At that time, politics focused more on gay and lesbian maters. Trans people were mostly invisible to me. I remember just trying to figure life out and all the while debates raged around me. It was scary and disorienting. I was just shy of fourteen when Mathew Shepherd was murdered. I remember “don’t Ask Don’t tell” becoming military law, and debates raging over “same sex marriage.” All around, my humanity was up for debate in some sort of cultural and political jostling for power. Being a young person trapped in the middle of a culture war is not fair. It robs a person of their childhood and teenage years.
What you are going through isn’t fair either. You should be thinking about soccer games or band practice. You should be worried about math class and what to wear to prom, not if you will be allowed access to medical care or allowed to participate in sports.
In 2015, I was sitting in a conference hall in Cleveland, Ohio during my denomination's national bi-annual gathering as we heard the news that the Supreme Court had issued a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. There was cheering, tears of joy, hugs - all at a church conference.
I was happy- 14 year old queer me lived to see a small part of cultural change.
Yet, If I am honest, I was also a bit afraid. As an out trans clergy person involved in activism, I knew that the gay and lesbian rights movement had won a symbolic victory of mainstream acceptance in that moment. I also knew that the religious right were already turning their targets towards trans and gender diverse people. 2016 brought us an onslaught of anti-trans legislation in the form of “bathroom bills.” It was dehumanizing in a way that somehow was deeper than the marriage debates ever were.
I share this to say that I do believe that change is possible- I have seen it happen in small but important ways. I want you to have hope that we will fight with you, and I do believe that in time we will see justice.
And yet, I want to acknowledge that in the meantime it hurts. It hurts and it's not fair. Being an adolescent is supposed to be a time to explore, to figure out who you are and what you like. It's not fair that your personhood is on a national political stage. It felt confusing and gut wrenching for me. It felt scary. I can only imagine that some of those same feelings might be true for you. As much as I want you to know that we are fighting for change, I also want you to have the tools for resilience to be ok now. As I think back, I wonder what my earlier self would need to know to find that resilience. These reflections come to mind.
I want you to know that it's more than just “ok to be trans,” It's wonderful. You are a special and important reflection of the Divine, you are beloved, and your life matters.
It can be easy to internalize the hateful rhetoric around us. However, many faith traditions actually celebrate trans and gender diverse people. For me, reminding myself of this helps on the hard days. If I can center myself in the truth of my worth and dignity I can stay grounded even when the world around me is stormy. In my faith tradition we believe that all people reflect the image of God. I will echo what many trans theologians have pointed out - that God is in fact beyond gender. Genesis 1 tells us that God created man and woman in God’s image, and while some would use this to harm us, we know that in fact this means that God in turn encompasses both masculinity, femininity and everything in between and beyond. Trans people reflect an important part of the image of God. And it's not just this passage that would lead us to this conclusion - we see in the scriptures both masculine and feminine images for God. These metaphors have led me to the conclusion that you could say God is genderqueer. In this way, trans people have a unique gift in representing this aspect of the divine that transcends and dare I say, transgresses gender.
On the days when the world seems cruel I remember that my trans-ness is a spiritual gift to myself and the world around me. It is a blessing to embody a transcendent space in the same way that so many spiritual realities defy categories or definition. Rabbi Elliot Kukla notes that while the Jewish tradition often categorized things into binaries, it also celebrates the ways creation cannot fit into boxes. Using twilight hour between day and night as an example he writes, “we might have thought that the ambiguity of twilight would have made it dangerous or forbidden within Jewish tradition. But in fact, our sages determined that dawn and dusk, the in-between moments, are the best times for prayer. Jewish tradition acknowledges that some parts of God’s creation defy categories and that these liminal people, places, and things are often the sites of the most intense holiness"1
As trans people, we are more than just OK, we are especially gifted to show the world a glimpse of the Holy that transcends, that defies categorization, and that manifest beauty in diverse ways. We reflect our creator as we co-create our lives, or even bodies, to be our fullest selves. We are more than ok, we are wonderful.
I want you to know that there are people and communities that will celebrate you. The voices of hate are often loud, but they are not the only voices. Perhaps you are lucky and are already in an affirming family or community. If so, I pray they are wrapping you in extra love and care at this time of cultural turmoil. If not, know that there are those of us who will. Whether it's through a spiritual community, or non-spiritual one - we will celebrate your journey alongside you.
I want you to know that you are not alone. There are others like you who understand. Some of us are older, some are your age. We get it. It's also my belief that God is very present with you as well, as I believe that God is especially near to those who are hurting. I want you to know you don’t have to fight alone either. As much as it is hard to see these debates play out on stage, I have found some comfort in the voices that have spoken up and out. I see trans adults who are sharing their truth. I see cisgender queer and straight allies fighting for a world where you can simply be. I see parents who are speaking up for their trans kids, and public officials who have stated they will defy the unjust demands to out trans kids or turn their parents over to protective services.
My sibling, you are a beloved child of God. Your light is sacred and special. The world is a more beautiful place because you exist.
1 Kukla, E. (2008) A Created Being of Its Own: Toward a Jewish Liberation Theology of Men, Women and Everyone Else. TransTorah. http://www.transtorah.org/PDFs/How_I_Met_the_Tumtum.pdf
This week we witnessed an egregious act of terrorism as the US Capitol was breached in a effort to overturn a fair and free election. There are many things to name and call out here- first and foremost that these people were incited to these acts by the current president of our country. These acts were a manifestation of the white supremacy that has run unchecked for the entirety of our history, but perhaps been more visible the last 4 years to those whose privilege has otherwise shielded them from seeing the issue. I could probably spend an entire post commenting on the nature of the incident itself, However, I will leave that to those who are more versed in the matter.
Instead, I want to take a moment to evaluate how we as people of faith have responded or failed to respond in the wake of this moment. There have been calls to prayer for an end to the violence of course, What strikes me though is a lack of calls for justice, accountability, and dealing with the underlying issues that led to this moment.
I hear a great deal of words about the need to reunite, forgive, or reconcile a deeply divided nation. While I suppose this comes from a well meaning place, it fails to recognize and hold space for the tremendous hurt and harm that many have experienced. More practically though, it skips over a much needed part of the healing process- the move to create justice and making amends to those harmed.
To try and skip over this hard work and straight to unity and forgiveness, will not only cause harm but will ultimately fail to bring about true unity. If we do not do the work of justice, we will only find ourselves here again.
I have named and will continue to name that extreme harm has been caused by both the Trump administration and his most violent followers. The administration has committed gross human rights violations- from oppressing minority citizens to tearing children from their families at the border or forcibly sterilizing women in ICE custody. Furthermore, his appeals to far right wing supporters in the dog whistles or even not so subtle appeals to white supremacy have fanned the flame of systemic racism that has been burning unchecked for hundreds of years. We saw this come to a violent and very visible reality with this week’s events.
When harm has been done, and it has, to move to reconciliation or unity without first addressing the harm done will not solve the problem. Physical wounds forcibly closed without treatment will fester, so too will forced unity cause social festering if we do first address the toxicity at play.
Believe me, I want unity. However, it must come authentically and not at the expense of justice. In this moment I of course call for no violence. However, non-violence does not mean there is no conflict. Non-violence does not mean there is no tension. We must do the work of dealing with our systems of injustice, of racism and of toxic hatred that are embedded in our cultural identity as a nation. To be clear, when I say “we”- I am speaking to white people- it is OUR job to deal with racism. Yes, there are other systems of privilege and oppression as well, however, these incidents are primarily and deeply rooted in white supremacy.
I want unity. I want a deep and abiding peace on earth. And, I know that this will only come when we do the work of dismantling oppression and injustice. It will only come with holding ourselves and others accountable for the ways that we have caused harm and participated in or benefited from systems of oppression. We must do the work to uproot these systems. Only then can healing and reconciliation be truly created. Anything less, is simply placing a pretty Band-Aid over a gaping, festering wound. This has been our way of dealing with racism in our country thus far-to ignore it. We cannot continue this pattern, or it will only be a matter of time before we see another day like January 6th, or one that is worse.
Furthermore, I want to ask those of us who are white Christians to examine why we have this tendency to have a spirituality that is summed up as being nice, polite, or conflict free. I get it- our faith tradition *does* tell us to forgive. Our tradition teaches the ways of peace and love. But again, I think these matters of forgiveness, of peace, and of love must be created on a foundation of justice and truly doing the work of addressing the issues at play. Conflict is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is needed to address a problem.
I want to ask- how much our white cultural norms of civility, politeness, and “being nice” influence our tendencies to overly simplify those pieces of Christianity that call for forgiveness or unity. After all, Jesus also speaks about not bringing peace but turning family members against one another (Matthew 10) as he recognized that the call of discipleship may result in very real social tensions. As followers of Christ we are called to be co-creators of a world of Justice- not everyone is going to like that, and it may ruffle a lot of feathers and will cause conflict. But we must be willing to have hard conversations, to hold each other accountable, and to do the hard work.
I also want to raise a very real pastoral issue here, which is that many people have been actively harmed not only by the incident of this week, but of the actions of many over the last four years (and beyond). We as people of faith, need to hold space for and validate the feelings of pain, anger, and hurt that people are expressing. Asking those harmed to move toward forgiveness and unity is at best a pastoral misstep and dismisses the feelings of pain and harm that many feel. In its worst expressions it is outright religious gaslighting. Imagine telling a victim of abuse that they must forgive their abuser or seek unity with those who enabled his harm. We would not. We recognize that their feelings of harm and pain are what's important. A caring response invites the victim to express their authentic feelings and have them validated. For many who have suffered at the hands of the Trump administration, the ask to move toward forgiveness and unity right now feels like a slap in the face. We need to hold space for pain. We need to commit to creating a more just society where people are not harmed. It may also mean we have to own and make amends for the ways we have caused harm. As someone queer who has been harmed by this administration I find myself in both rolls- knowing i have pain to be heard and also knowing that as a white person, I have benefited from systemic racism. I have pain and I also have caused pain.
Of course some, including those who have been harmed, may feel it best for their own spirit to move towards forgiveness, as a means of not allowing the harm done to continue to reside in them. This is certainly valid and is helpful for some, though not for all. As pastors, people of faith, spiritual leaders or spiritual seekers, our role is to hold space for wherever people are in their emotional process.
So fellow church folk, and yes, I do mean white church folk specifically-we have much work to do. I want unity and peace. However, we must build it on a foundation of justice and liberation. When we pray this Sunday, let us not gloss over the work that is ours to do and simply ask God for peace. Let us not speak of love that does not also have accountability. Let us not fail to confess how we ourselves have been complicit in systems of oppression or participated in them. As we pray this Sunday, it must be a prayer to commit ourselves to this work even as we ask God to be with us along this journey. Pray for a society where peace and justice is a reality, but be sure to pray with your feet as you go forth to do the work of co-creating that world with God’s help.
It’s the night before Election Day... I cant sleep.
When Trump was elected in 2016 it was like a gut punch, and I didn’t know how we would survive this. I see now I was unaware in not seeing the full scope of the issue. But now here we are on the cusp of what we have been hoping would be and end... well kind of... at least a big chunk of it.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last 4 years is that this toxicity is far bigger than Trump. People sometimes think these far right militias, white supremacist, and other hateful people are new. They aren’t, they’ve just become more public and more bold. If we win, they aren’t going anywhere and they sure aren’t going quietly. If we win this is by no means the end at all.
So here we are... we don’t really know what the election results will be, or what fall out may come.
Am I safe? Will we be ok? These are the questions at our most basic human survival level. To be clear- many of us feel this way (and have felt this for some time). If you don’t, congratulations, please vote with us in mind.
In the swirl of this uncertainty how do we stay somewhat ok-ish? I am not an expert but here’s a few thoughts and a few practices that are helping me.
First off, remember this may not even get decided on election night. With large turn out and absentee ballots it may take time to have a clear winner. For the moment- we can go do what we CAN do: keep ensuring voters get their votes in, and that every vote is counted. Fight suppression and push for a just election. For me, if there is something I can do, it helps me feel some level of control in uncertain times.
As I wait on election day, and as I try to stay grounded in the next few days, I’ll be sticking to very basic practices:
A simple body scan when feeling anxious can be helpful. Throughout the day, just pause and take a mental scan of your body.
Notice where you are tense and holding tension. Imagine breathing in to those right places and letting the tension ease and relax on the out breath. If you are a person whose spiritual tradition this makes sense for- you can imagine this as a sort of prayer or way of interacting with the Divine. Imagine breathing in the Divine- the love of God, The Light of Christ, whatever metaphor makes sense for you. Allowing that presence to fill you with calm, and breathing out, allowing tension to release.
As you move through your body, easing places of tension, take a moment to drop your shoulders down away from your ears. I know it sounds simple but we tend to tense and draw our body in and up. Relax your tongue, yes, even there you'll notice it is often tensed up in your mouth, your jaw clenched shut, relax that too. Relax your brow and forehead... easing all the little places we hold tension.
As you move through your body, slowly breathing in and out, releasing tension you can notice again how you body has shifted.
You can continue this breath practice until you are ready to resume what you were doing. I typically end by letting my breath return to natural, slowly moving my hands and feet and gently easing back into an awareness of the world around me, slowly opening my eyes and taking a few stretches.
Know that you can return to this breath and this practice whenever you need to pause and get calm.
Lean On Each Other: A Practice of Giving and Receiving Love
While this isn't a formal "sit down" practice, it is one that can be an intention we live into each day. I recently took a Psychological First Aid course where I learned that the number one predictor of resilience for a person in the wake of tragedy is connection to others and having support. While this course focused on natural disasters and other similar traumas, I believe that its logical to suggest that this is true in any time of difficulty. We do better when we aren't alone.
As a practice, We may make it a point to offer ourselves intentionally to others in this time. For some, you may not really have much to give and that's ok. Allow yourself to receive love and support. For those who are less effected by everything happening right now- reach out to those who need it. For many of us we are somewhere in between.
One day at a Time
Finally, I am learning that this ordeal is going to go on for some time; all I can do is face things one day at a time. I have a few friends who have long-term sobriety that have taught me a great deal about this. One told me that this is the only way they can do it- it would seem to big to think about "forever" and sobriety, but they can think about today and sobriety.
As a fairly anxious person, i tend to think of all the "what if's" and try to prepare for every possible thing that could happen. What I've found is that this isn't sustainable.
Of course, be smart, prepare what you can both for yourself and for your community. But we have to take these challenges as they come to us. On election day, its voting and voter protection. In the next few days its demanding every vote is counted and a fair election is complete. I don't know what the next day or the next day or the next day will be. I am preparing for what smart, more experienced organizers are suggesting may happen, especially in light of the recent SCOTUS appointment. However, right now, in this moment I am attending to the challenges that are before me.
A friend of mine taught me the phrase "right now its like this" as a sort of mantra when I was going through a particularly difficult time. Its one that I often have written on an index card on my meditation alter. Its a reminder to me that things will ebb and flow, rise and fall.
Right now, its like this. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I will face it when it comes.
I'll Listen First
As I have sat at my computer this week, watching the news of more black lives lost to police violence, watching protest emerge all across the country, I feel the need to say something. However I am mindful that you do not need to hear my voice centered in this moment. Rather, we who are not effected need to listen first, listen and amplify the voices of black people. I want to share this with you as one taste of the voices you need to be hearing instead of mine. I had the chance to listen to this webinar on Sunday and will be re-watching this weekend. White Christians, I invite you to set aside a couple of hours and listen to this and take time to reflect.
There is a lot of energy right now to join the movement. I would consider myself fairly new to this movement even though I have been in LGBTQ community work for some time. For me, the next best step is that am taking actions I know to be helpful that I have the skills for (like donating money and supplies to organizers) while I educate myself and seek training that will allow me to take further actions, try to use my platform to amplify voices, and actions happening.
Below are also links to black led organizations that are doing organizing on the ground. If you aren't yet sure how to act, donating is always a good way to support the movement.
I will soon write more typical spiritual things. However, I wanted to use this space to amplify the need for racial justice work. Thank you for doing this self-examination work with me.
Donate to Southerners on New Ground
Donate to the Movement for Black Lives
Questions and Questioning Welcomed
"For when you first begin to undertake it, all that you find is a darkness, a sort of cloud of unknowing; you cannot tell what it is, except that you experience in your will a simple reaching out to God. This darkness and cloud is always between you and your God, no matter what you do, and it prevents you from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your reason, and from experiencing him in the sweetness of love in your affection...For if you are to experience him or to see him at all, insofar as it is possible here, it must always be in this cloud and this darkness."
-The Cloud of Unknowing, author unknown-late 14th cent
The more I seek and learn in life, the more I realize what I don’t know, or rather the more I recognize is unknowable.
As a youth, I entered the world of spirituality in an atmosphere that claimed all things are black and white; all things are absolute. However, as life brought challenges and questions, those simplistic answers often fell short. The first time my spirit was truly shaken was as an Americorps member, serving in one of the most destitute homeless shelters in Atlanta. Where was God? This idea that God always provides fell flat as I met day in and day out with people whose faith was no less devout than mine and yet found no divine provision. Where was God? The simplistic answers to why God let bad things happen just failed to make sense in the face of all I saw. Everything certainly didn’t happen for some deeply spiritual reason. Rather, the systems of oppression in our society that hold some back while others thrive- that was the reason. God that could fix this but did not… hmm I don’t think that is satisfactory. I suspect this could be (will be) a whole post unto itself. But in short, something had to shift. The faith framework I was given was lacking in its ability to make sense of the world around me, let alone my own experiences.
As my journey has continued, I find so much is a mystery. Many things don’t make sense. Many things are simply better when we let them be unexplainable.
In my first year of Seminary I learned about some of the well-known Christian mystics. I’ll spare you the details, but one thing that was often a common thread was the idea of “the negative way” or via negativa. This way of speaking about God moves beyond using any human concepts of language for God, and instead moves us toward what God is not, trusting only in the presence of the Divine. So, while positive theology or “kataphatic theology” might say “God is Love” or “God is truth,” the negative way, or apophatic theology, moves beyond these concepts of the Divine, recognizing that they ultimately fall short of the Divine reality. Mysticism then seeks to experience the Divine which is beyond words, beyond understanding or concepts, a mystery. The quote above from The Cloud of Unknowing speaks this reality- if we are to fully experience the Divine, it isn’t in our intellect, our words, or our theology. Rather it is in this place of unknown, as we simply reach out into the Divine presence.
As someone who wrestled with so many questions, this sense of mystery as a means of connecting with the divine resonated with me. It was comforting. I found myself at peace in this place of unknown. A place my mind couldn’t articulate but my heart could rest in the presence of Love. Perhaps everything didn’t have to make perfect sense. Perhaps everything didn’t need a well-articulated argument or thesis. Perhaps some things are beyond our understanding or words and are simply something to be leaned into.
As we move through this journey of life, sometimes we find wisdom. Sometimes we find things that work. Other times we find… just questions. Often people come to me as a clergy person looking for answers. I write not to offer all the answers or solutions. I don’t have them. I write to share where I’ve found wisdom, love, peace, joy, or comfort. I hope you’ll share your experiences. Maybe I’ll write about life, or spirituality. Maybe I’ll write about dogs, parenting, music and woodworking. It’s all life and all spirit.
While I don’t have all the answers to offer you, I promise to not be afraid of the questions. Friends let us explore this journey of life together. Let us dance with the mystery of the Divine.
About This Blog
I will write from my own experience and place in life. My goal is to share what I’ve found to be helpful in my life. It may or may not be something that works for you. I aim to share, not to “should” on you. I invite you to explore and reflect with me.