3 Tips to Help Your UMC Friends Grieve

Yesterday the delegates at the General Conference for the UMC adopted the Traditionalist Plan that strengthens the already homophobic language in the Book of Discipline and makes enforcement more punitive. You may have friends who are deeply grieving that decision today and you may want to help, so here are a couple of quick tips for that.

1. Don’t tell people how to grieve. Some will feel sad. Some will feel angry. Some will feel confused. Some will feel hurt. Some will feel abandoned. Some will feel a combination of all of these and so much more. They are all legitimate reactions. If someone reacts differently than you or how you think they should react, it’s not your place to tell them how they’re supposed to feel. Simply sit with them no matter how they are feeling. Acknowledge their feelings, let them know they are heard and loved. You don’t have to fix them, just be with them.

2. Don’t tell people how to move forward. It’s natural to want to help when someone has experienced a loss, and that’s a good instinct. But right now is not the time to offer solutions. You may go to an awesome, affirming church and it may make perfect sense to invite someone who doesn’t have that to be a part of your faith tradition. But people in the throes of trauma (and for many, this decision was traumatic), making a choice to join a new church is not the healthiest. Most people who are seeking LGBTQ affirming churches are aware of the denominations that are already affirming. Their decision to be a part of a non-affirming denomination may be far more complex than you know. If later you sense a desire in your friend to move, by all means, gently offer an invitation. But unless you are specifically invited to make that suggestion, today is not the day.

3. Dump out. The ring theory is one of my favorite illustrations for grief. Basically, draw circles and put the people most directly affected by the decision in the center. So if you know an LGBTQ minister/deacon/leader, they go there. LGBTQ members are near the center. Family/loved ones of LGBTQ members. Pastors and staff of affirming congregations. These are folks all toward the center. If you’re on the outside? You only put comfort in. You may also be hurting, and that’s totally reasonable, but you don’t get to put your hurt on someone closer to the center. Today would be a good day to think, “Hey, does this affect me as directly as some other people? Maybe I can hold off on sharing my opinion publicly so I can let people closer to the center process their emotions.” It doesn’t mean hold it in, but perhaps find better places to share your frustrations or hurt. Today dump out, put comfort in.

There are a lot of decisions that will be made in the coming years, and each one will likely trigger a new wave of pain for people in the UMC. How we treat one another in the next few days and weeks will help pave the way for that pain to be manageable.

And as a personal note to my LGBTQ friends, family, and anyone who finds their way here:

You are loved. You are valuable. You are worthy. You are holy.

You are, and that is a beautiful thing.

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The Church is Queer

My kids like to say that everything is gay. These video game characters are gay. These TV characters are gay. The plants outside are gay. Our dog is gay.

One time I asked my daughter why everything had to be gay. She looked at me, and asked me if I was serious. That NOTHING is gay. That nearly every coupling is straight and geared toward straightness. That most of the whole history of pop culture has been pushing the idea that men and women are born into specific bodies and that they can only find attraction in wholly straight and cisgender pairings. Transgender characters don’t exist. Gay and lesbian couples don’t exist. Asexual people don’t exist. There is no rainbow, just two colors – pink and blue, and heaven help you if you think otherwise.

To find LGBTQ role models, my kids have to imagine them. They find representation when they can and when they can’t, they find it anyway. They are certain of their existence, so they find their community however they can.

For the past three days, the United Methodist Church has been meeting to determine the future of LGBTQ people in the church. The language of the Book of Discipline bars LGBTQ people from serving as leaders and ministers in the denomination and from LGBTQ people from being married in a UMC church or by UMC ministers. It says, as so many churches do, that LGBTQ people are welcome to come listen, but not to have their love celebrated and certainly not to lead. There should be no queer representation in the UMC.

Yesterday the delegates voted against the plan that would change this. It was a plan that offered the bare minimum to LGBTQ members while still allowing those who wanted to practice homophobia to continue to do so. But even that was intolerable to the majority.

For many, this was the final straw. For both LGBTQ people and those who love them, this was the event that caused the cauldron of pain to boil over, and many churches will see empty pews next Sunday. The desired erasure of LGBTQ people will be be accomplished, at least for some. And the blood of LGBTQ people will be on the hands of those who have chosen their own comfort over the well-being of the marginalized and the oppressed.

And yet.

The LGBTQ community will not be erased. Just as my kids choose to see representation where it is so often missing, LGBTQ members of the UMC will claim their place at the table. They will declare that the Church is gay. That the Church is trans. That the Church is lesbian. That the Church is queer. And they will be right.

LGBTQ people will continue to serve in the UMC and in ALL Christian churches around the globe. They will lead you in singing. They will lead you in the reading of the Scripture. They will lead you in prayer. They will lead congregations.

They will be the hands and feet of Jesus – to those who accept them, but also to those who do not.

They will bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted – the broken hearts of the LGBTQ people, but also the hearts that are too broken to see the value of LGBTQ people.

They will be be a light in darkness – to their LGBTQ siblings who need to better be able see their own worth, but also to those who need their own bigotry exposed so more love can flow in.

They will bring their joys, their sorrows, their love, their resilience, their queerness and they will strengthen the the Body of Christ by being exactly as they were created. Beloved of God.

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A Teacher’s Story

I’m here in West Virginia where, for the second year in a row, there is a teacher work stoppage. My dear friend Anna sent me this a while back, and I think today is a great day to share it. Support teachers. Support public education.

When I was a little girl, my favorite game to play with my grandma was school. When she came to visit, I would be waiting with a pencil and paper to give her a spelling test. For some reason, my idea of fun was to subject my grandmother to the kind of thing my classmates and I hated. She played along, like any good grandmother would, and made intentional mistakes occasionally so that I could use my red crayon to grade her work. Four weeks ago, I attended her funeral. She suffered from dementia, so I don’t know if she ever really knew that I did, in fact, become a teacher.

Almost four years ago, I graduated from West Virginia University with a master’s degree in education. I knew it was not going to be an easy profession or one that earned me fame and glory, but I believed it was worth the low pay and high expectations. By far, though, the thing that surprises me most about being a teacher is the vast number of people who hear my title and respond, “Ew. Why?”

Think about that for a moment. I have chosen to go into a profession that shapes the minds of children. A profession that requires me to be knowledgeable about my content and then know five different ways of explaining that content so that my students understand it. I instill a love of reading and writing in my students, and spend my time and money ensuring they have the resources necessary to nurture that love. My students know they have someone in their corner, especially when that means I’m the only one on their side. I give up evenings and weekends to plan future lessons and to grade assignments. I notice when students are upset and ask what I can do to help, even if that means I simply pat them on the shoulder when they shrug me off. I could go on, and I haven’t even begun listing what other teachers, counselors, nurses, and aides provide for the children of this state.

Teachers and service personnel know what we do matters, but so often we must remind people outside the classroom of that fact. This is painfully clear right now when you look at what is happening in the West Virginia legislature. Republican Senators have introduced an omnibus bill that they will fundamentally change public education in this state. They claim this will be positive reform, but they evidently have no idea what teachers need or want.

Teachers do not need larger class sizes and less pay for those over-stuffed classes. Teachers do not need more “choices” in the form of charter schools and education savings accounts that do nothing but gut public school funding. Teachers do not need differential pay to pit us against one another in times of upheaval. Teachers do not need to be blamed for rising property taxes. Teachers do not need their seniority taken away so that their jobs become less secure simply because their experience means their paycheck has gotten too high to keep them around. Teachers do not need their union membership threatened at every turn. Teachers do not need their love for their students questioned when the students are the reason we do this job.

Teachers need smaller class sizes so that we can ensure we are paying the necessary attention to each individual students and their needs. Teachers need current resources to fill their classrooms with meaningful and enriching material for their students. Teachers need counselors available to help their students when they struggle with more than academics. Teachers need service personnel who feel safe and respected in their job.

Teachers need to know their benefits will not be threatened year after year in every legislative session. Teachers need fair compensation for the work they do without fear of being called selfish when we ask for it. Teachers need lawmakers to realize that we are the experts when it comes to positive education reform, and if they ask for it, we’ll be happy to teach them what that looks like.

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Crumbs

Thinking about Chris Pratt and the UMC this morning.

Chris Pratt got into a bit of a controversy over the past week with Ellen Page. She pushed him on being a part of an anti-LGBTQ church and he pushed back. Pratt has said that his church is not anti-LGBTQ because it opens its doors to everyone. But let’s be honest, acceptance isn’t the whole deal. Can a gay couple be married at your church? Can a trans woman lead a Bible study? Can a non-binary person be ordained? Will a questioning kid hear that their sexuality or gender identity is, at its core, something that separates them from God? In an affirming church, the answer to these questions will affirm the full inclusion of LGBTQ people. A welcoming church may not. And if not, how welcome IS that welcome?

I don’t think churches exist to make us comfortable, but if you have to cut off part of your identity to participate, that church isn’t pro or even neutral toward LGBTQ people. It’s an anti-LGBTQ church.

This isn’t to say that Chris Pratt is personally anti-LGBTQ – I’m not under the impression that he is. And I understand his desire to protect a church that helped him through a difficult period in his life. I’ve been there.

Hell, I’m still kind of there. Which brings me to the other thing rattling in my brain, the upcoming special session of the general conference for the United Methodist Church.

Right now the UMC’s Book of Discipline, which is the guiding document for how the church operates, says, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and goes on to say that LGBTQ people cannot be ordained, appointed to serve, or married in a UMC church/by a UMC pastor. Many churches simply disregard the rules and do these things anyway (there are many openly LGBTQ ministers in the UMC as well as one gay bishop), but the thing is, if you’re going to a UMC church, you just don’t know how much of a stickler they are for the rules. An LGBTQ person simply doesn’t know when they walk into a UMC church if they’re welcomed or affirmed. And the difference between the two can be life threatening. I don’t say that to be hyperbolic. LGBTQ Christians often have an added layer of pain in their lives by wondering not only if the people in their lives love them as they are, but if God loves them as they are. The bait and switch of God loves you, but not the queer part can be devastating to anyone already struggling.

The special session that runs February 23-26 is tasked with addressing how to move forward. I honestly don’t know how this will go. I’ve read a lot by people who know a lot more about the inner workings of the UMC than me, and the consensus seems to be “🤷🏻‍♀️.”

I know the biggest frustration for me is that compromises were made before it even started because there is no plan that says, “The UMC will now be fully affirming,” while there IS a plan that says, “We will strengthen our anti-LGBTQ stance.” I’m not wholly opposed to compromise (okay, I kind of am, but for the sake of argument, let’s say I’m not), but it saddens me that the best plan for LGBTQ people is, “we get rid of the offensive language, but individual churches can still decide how anti-LGBTQ they want to be.” That feels…not great. It’s crumbs.

The worst Jesus story for me is in Matthew 15, when he kind of acts like a jerk toward the Canaanite woman. Maybe he’s just tired and he’s short with her. Maybe the story lost something in translation and it was kinder than it appears. But Jesus calls her a dog. Kind of the way Pratt’s church and the UMC call LGBTQ people less-than. Someone loved, but lower. Someone who doesn’t deserve a seat at the table. Someone whose presence is taking food away from those who REALLY deserve it. It’s not a good look for Jesus, tbh. And it’s not a good look for a church either.

But the woman wasn’t having it. She wanted what Jesus had to give. She wanted healing for suffering in her family. She wanted his attention. And she told him that at the very least, she deserved the crumbs. She sat at his feet and demanded crumbs. She said that those crumbs didn’t take away from the feeding of the more deserving. That even the lowly deserved some measure of sustenance.

And Jesus changed. He didn’t give her crumbs, he gave her the full meal. He praised her faith. He gave her the healing she had asked for. She got it all.

We don’t have to make our LGBTQ friend and family settle for crumbs. We can be like Jesus and give the full meal. We can say, “We love you. We accept you. We affirm you. Come, sit at the table and eat the meal prepared for all of us.”

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My #MeToo Story

My #metoo story is almost nothing, which is why I’ve never talked about it. I know women who have dealt with significant trauma from unwanted sexual advances, and I’m not traumatized at all. (For real. There are plenty of traumas in my life, but the following story is not one of those.) But I feel like the story still has some merit, for the lessons it taught me.

I performed in all of my high school musicals. One year we staged Grease and I was cast as Rizzo. It was super fun. She’s an awesome character and even though I was The Worst Dancer (OMG, so bad), I had a blast doing it. Of course, if you’re familiar with the show, Rizzo is pretty “easy”, so there was some stage kissing with the guy playing Kenickie. I knew that when I got the role, and that was fine. For all of the rehearsals and most of the shows, it was just stage kissing. We were supposed to be giving each other hickies, so we just buried our faces in each others’ necks and that was it. Perhaps not the most convincing acting, but it did the job and for an easily embarrassed high schooler who did not get around much, it was plenty.

However, the final night of a show was always the “prank night.” I don’t know when that became a thing – long before I was there, I’m sure. So I also knew that on the last night all of that fake kissing would be “real.” I hoped that it might not be, but was definitely prepared for that.

And as per expectations, kissing happened. I didn’t fight it because it was just tradition on the last night of a show, and nobody wants to the the person who pushes back against tradition.

Please know, I don’t hate the guy who played opposite me. He didn’t grope me, he didn’t use this as an excuse to try anything beyond the show, he didn’t hurt me. I don’t feel traumatized by this event. It didn’t make me distrust men, it didn’t make me feel weird about kissing later, it didn’t make me hate sex. There were no lasting repercussions as a result of this event. It was just two people kissing because it was closing night and that’s what happened on closing night.

Ultimately, I think it felt almost mutual because it was expected. We both had our roles to play, and that’s just what we did.

But why did adults think that was acceptable?Why did they treat something intimate as a joke? Why didn’t someone say, hey, you shouldn’t force your tongue into someone else’s mouth? And you don’t have to let someone kiss you if you don’t want to?

I have been following the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh closely over the weekend. I think Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is tremendously brave for risking so much to be honest about her experience. And I am so sorry that her honesty is being questioned by the same people who so often claim to want to protect women through nonsense bathroom laws that hurt transgender individuals. It sickens me to read tweets that take an attempted rape and reduce it to teenaged folly. To see mostly men suggesting that it’s just the way men act when they’re 17 and women should just move on. To question why a woman would bring something up decades after it happened.

I’m sickened, but I’m not surprised.

I’m not surprised because when someone kissed me without my consent, adults just laughed about it. Their inaction told me that traditions and expectations had more value than my body. That saying no would make me less fun, less a part of the group.

Both of us had roles to play. He was supposed to be the aggressor. I was supposed to submit to that aggression. It was, for the most part in this case, pretty harmless. But the lessons were not. Men don’t have to be aggressors. Women don’t have to passively allow men to touch them in ways they don’t want to be touched. Tradition does not outweigh agency.

Adults SHOULD NOT create a space for this, or excuse it when it happens. And they shouldn’t excuse it 35 years later.

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No Debate

Photo by Kristina Tripkovik

I’m having a bad day.

I can’t stop thinking about little Jamel Myles, the nine year old boy who killed himself a few days ago after he was bullied for coming out as gay.

He. Was. Nine.

I can’t stop thinking about his mother. No awkward middle school picture. No first crushes. No first dates. No prom. No wedding. No grandchildren. No complaints that he doesn’t call enough. Nothing. Just a grave.

All because some small-minded, fear-filled people couldn’t stop and see him specifically, and gay people generally, as people. No, they’re just problems to be conquered. Kids absorbed that ideology and told their classmate to kill himself, AND HE DID.

And it’s hitting me today, because yesterday a student got up in front of one of my kids’ classes and delivered a transphobic story to the applause of other students in front of my trans kid. They had to sit there, listening to trash about them and then hear other students applaud that trash.

I think of Jamel. Who was excited to share more of himself with his classmates. Whose mom did everything right. Who still couldn’t take the pain of unrelenting bullying and killed himself.

You may be sitting there thinking, “I’d never tell a gay or trans kid to kill themself! I’d never openly mock them!” And I believe you. I believe that you probably wouldn’t be like people in this video who suggested cutting off a 12 year old’s trans girl’s penis because she to used the girls’ bathroom. I believe that you believe that you can love the sinner and hate the sin and that no one gets hurt that way.

But what is your response to the bathroom debate? Do you think “they” should be forced to use bathrooms that correspond to their genitals? Do you use the correct names and pronouns, i.e., the names and pronouns you have been asked to use? Do you vote in ways that allow people to be fired for being gay, in ways that prohibit gay people from adopting, in ways that ban transgender military personnel from serving?

Because those actions and words chip away at worth, too. They tell kids, yes, even as young as nine, that their lives have less value than their straight or cisgender classmates. They tell kids, yes, KIDS, that they should be alone, that they are not worthy of your respect. They tell kids, kids made in the image of God, that they are a sin.

And you can’t, as others have tried to tell me and my kids in the face of the abuses they have endured, simply claim that it’s a difference of opinion.

My kids’ names aren’t up for debate.

My kids’ pronouns aren’t up for debate.

My kids’ sexual preferences aren’t up for debate.

My kids’ value is not up for debate.

Their lives are important to me. I hope they can be important to you, too.

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Doing the Unstuck

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Let me start by saying that if you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix, do what you can to fix that as soon as possible. It is one of the most powerful, life-changing pieces of art I’ve ever seen. Honestly, she has done something spectacular with this show, and I believe all of us can learn something from it. I will also say that if you haven’t watched it, I will be talking about it in this post, so there are some minor spoilers ahead.

The show is largely about Gadsby’s decision to quit comedy. I’m unclear about how long-term that decision is, but it does appear to be an actual choice that she’s making. One of the reasons she gives for making this decision is that she feels like she is arrested in the way that she has told her coming out story. She came out as a lesbian in a country where being gay was a crime until 1997, and didn’t have a great experience. She made a name for herself telling that and other stories where her identity as a gender non-conforming and gay woman were the punchlines.

She goes on to say that she now has a great relationship with her mom, but that doesn’t make for good comedy. Her mom responding in a negative way allows for better tension and release in laughter. But telling only that part of the story has left her with residual self-hatred, because in telling that story over and over, she has crystalized that moment of shame. She is arrested because she has told the bad part of of her story so many time.

As a writer, it’s so easy for me to want to write about the parts of my story that might draw more interest and more clicks. Write about the shame that surrounded me when I committed adultery. Write about the loneliness of being kicked out of a church. Write about the fears of raising a bunch of LGBTQ kids. Write about the grief of losing my son.

Sometimes I wonder if I have been having trouble writing because I’ve written a lot about those things and I’m getting stuck. Stuck in shame, stuck in fear, stuck in grief. Not necessarily in my life, but here, on the page. Feeling like I still need to tell every possible bad feeling I have experienced until I have atoned enough to move on.

Those are all true things. They are all part of my story, and I will revisit them from time to time, no doubt. But I want to explore now as well. I want to tell stories about being in a church that accepts me. I want to tell stories about my husband picking up all of the slack when I was sick with bronchitis for three weeks. I want to tell the stories about reminding my trans kids to put their busted breast form into the trash instead of leaving a boob sitting on the dog’s crate. There is humor and acceptance and love in my life and when I just write about the hurts in my past, I don’t allow myself to fully participate in the present.

Plus, the story of finding random body parts in your living room really is worth reading about.

P.S. The title is my nod to being a Gen X’er who loves The Cure. Congrats to those of you who got it.

Photo by SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

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