Confused Monk Seeking Unknown (Time for a New Lay Order?)

Once again I feel the calling. The force inside that must spill out, that must be given voice. I know that force intimately, even as it remains unfathomable. Living with a force of nature all your life lends an odd familiarity with ever-changing wildness. I know that the malaise, the sense of aimlessness I have lately felt is a reflection of this force not being given what it needs to grow, to thrive, to thrum at its preferred frequency. And so I search.

I look again at lay orders: communities of people out in the world who have dedicated themselves to a relationship with monastic orders. It is a way to live a life of deep faith, of structured daily commitment to contemplation and compassion, with a family and worldly commitments too. It has always been alluring to me. And yet… again I read and again I know none of these communities are for me.

I search this resistance to established lay orders and I wonder, is it an obstacle I should push past? Is it a hindrance, or a gift? Is it disobedience? Is the problem that I need to commit more? I seek this connection in part because I know I don’t have all the answers, even to the questions of what my path should be. I’m looking for guidance. And so, to move forward, do I need to humble myself, in the sense that I should let go of some of these answers I’ve been clinging to? It’s so hard to know what human groups to trust with my faith journey, and past betrayals don’t ease the difficulty.

Deep down I know, that this isn’t just a matter of disobedience. Yes, I crave a commitment to something larger than me, to something that will give more structure to my spiritual life and something that will give shape to what I can give back. But each of these communities I look at – lay orders of Benedictines, Franciscans, etc. – are all firmly rooted in classical theology. They are born of a theological worldview that feels incomplete to me personally. They have profound wisdom to offer, but they are missing critical pieces that I know in my heart are a part of my path.

I know that my life is missing some structure to support my devotion to God. I know that I crave a deeper commitment to contemplation, to prayer, for its own sake. I know that I want that contemplation to guide my action in the world, and that I don’t just want to insert a habit of contemplation underneath activism that I have chosen without appropriate discernment.

I know that I want to cultivate a deep relationship with many traditional Christian virtues: compassion, faithfulness, honesty, kindness, gentleness, purity of heart, courage, conversion, service, respect for personal conscience/agency, conscientiousness, mutuality, peace… and yes, even appropriate obedience, humility, penance, and anger. All have strong Christian roots. I also know that I want my relationship to virtue to include an understanding of structures of oppression, and God’s answer to those structures. So, to that list of Christian virtues add resistance, anti-racism, anti-capitalism, dismantling colonialism and appropriately supporting healing from it, full affirmation and blessing of gender diversity, body positivity, undoing privilege and practicing resurrection. These also have long Christian roots. I want integration, but not in the style of a systematic theology. What I want is structure to support a thriving way of living… the trellis that supports the climbing rose.

Just like when contemplation undergirds and drives service, I think this deeper integrated foundation of lifestyle is what reaches beyond us to others. I know I’ve written a handful of small, personal Rules of Life before, often incredibly specific to encourage living out the goals (like naming a number of hours of reading each week). I kept them to myself, and they would serve me for small spans of time. But I am craving something deeper and broader, to connect me to others.

I know my seminary training, my ordination, and my ministry in chaplaincy was because of this underlying drive, and I know they ultimately did not fit my calling. I don’t regret any of it. But I know I was seeking some very different religious calling in pursuing them than what my career came to be. This awareness of my own experience makes me wonder if there is a dearth of possibilities for the devoted religious life that others have felt too. How many more monks and oblates would there be if there were more ways to embody this deep commitment? What if acknowledged charisms – or gifts of the Spirit – were a much longer list? What if, besides Dominican preaching and Ignatian prayer, there were also devoted Christian communities providing service in sexuality education or lived embodiments of genderqueerness? What gifts those would be to the world.

I have recently joined the Abbey of the Arts community, and I expect to find some comfort, wisdom and kinship there. I hope it to be a shelter as I prepare and plan, a kind of training up in further virtuous practices. But I also suspect that I will find it incomplete, and that I am looking for something more.

I don’t know what form this will all take. But I know I want to pursue this. I know I want to build not just another few habits for myself, but something larger. While freedom of conscience is critical to me, so is accountability. This accountability can be hard to find for atomized monks making their way in online community. But I can’t help but think that there are new ways we can be accountable to each other. Perhaps in following my own conscience, and linking what is particular to me to what makes for solidarity with others, I can find this calling of mine.

Perhaps it resonates with something in you too. If it does, let us keep in touch.

Published in: on August 24, 2014 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book Review – Weetzie Bat

Weetzie Bat (Weetzie Bat, #1)Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Zero, zero ZERO stars if I could. Oh, mercy. I only managed to finish reading this because it was short. And with its reputation, I thought it might get less awful at some point.

Spoiler: it never got less awful. And now my face hurts from grimacing this long.

Are these characters supposed to be this unlikeable? I mean, I know they’re supposed to be just DARLING levels of rebellious cool. That much is clear. I mean, they wear kimonos and Indian headdresses so obviously they’re really unique. And they adore vintage and kitschy decor, so they’re obviously imaginative. And they have token exotic brown friends, so they’re obviously authentic and real as individuals. (Hm, perhaps the book functions best as a guide to what white people should not do.) Oh, and they’re brokenhearted that the shitty fake town they live in is different from the shitty fake town it used to be. So they must be deep.

And I also know they’re cool because they’re incredibly selfish – often bordering on abusive – with no discernible relationship skills. They treat each other – and the children they create – as objects to be manipulated for their fantasy life. Most loving actions portrayed in the story are along the lines of buying someone a burrito, while the ickier actions taken are the size of (SPOILER) secretly getting yourself pregnant by multiple best friends because your partner has made it clear they don’t want kids (/SPOILER). Only when someone is faced with death does it occur to ANYONE INVOLVED that their actions have consequences.

The fairy tale style of writing and the child-like prose could be used to wonderful effect, they really could. I adore magical realism. But when those qualities are a stand-in for characterization, it really just makes for a shallow story about shallow people. And tragedy striking is a great time for tears and real moments where we all realize we won’t have each other forever and we need to love fiercely. But if I still don’t give a shit about any of you, what difference does it make?

I understand it’s a portrayal of gay/bi characters (and AIDS) and blended families in a young adult book. Perhaps that’s why it got the reputation it did for inspiring so many weird kids. And I’m thankful for that. I love my fellow weird kids. But it’s disturbing to think that these terrible characters could seep into anyone’s ideals about relationships. Actually, now I’m wondering how many polyamorous people pattern their relationships after Weetzie Bat, because that would really explain a lot.

View all my reviews

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  


The great thing for YOU when we get aggravated at having too many books is that we end up giving away really awesome stuff. We’ve pulled 254 titles from our collection… some are from lifetimes and careers long past, some just deserve to be read more, some are duplicates because can’t keep track of what we already have!

Most will go to the Friends of the Louisiana State University Library for their annual amazeballs book bazaar. But I know the religion books in particular may hold interest for friends of mine. Here’s a look at the religion section, with a couple of subdivided categories. Now, ownership on our part should not be taken as endorsement. We certainly haven’t read all of these. But many titles are dear friends. Let me know if you’d like more info about any of them. Every book except one is represented both in a picture and in the text list.

There’s no charge for any of them. If you’d like to contribute to shipping, I’d be delighted to give you a Paypal account to donate to. I’ll be shipping USPS media mail from Louisiana, US. But please don’t let lack of funds stand between you and a book you’d give a good home to.

Click pics for a closer look!

(Claimed titles have a line through them.)

Emergent section

Emergent section

The Evolution of Faith by Philip Gulley
Insurrection by Peter Rollins
Becoming the Answer to our Prayers by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Inside the Organic Church by Bob Whitesel
A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren
Reimagining Church by Frank Viola
More Ready Than You Realize by Brian McLaren
Fall To Grace by Jay Bakker
The Boundary-Breaking God by Danielle Shroyer
An Emergent Manifesto of Hope by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones
The Jesus Creed by Scott McKnight
A Christianity Worth Believing by Doug Pagitt
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

Pastoral interest: counseling, curricula, denominational, textbooks

Pastoral interest: counseling, curricula, denominational, textbooks

The Equipping Pastor (Alban Institute) by R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins
Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counseling by Howard Clinebell
A Handbook for Today’s Disciples by D. Duane Cummins (Christian Church/Disciples of Christ)
We Believe: An Interpretation of the United Church Statement of Faith by Roger Shinn and Daniel Day Williams (United Church of Christ)
Feminist and Womanist Pastoral Theology by Bonnie Miller-McLemore and Brita Gill-Austern
Introducing Feminist Pastoral Care and Counseling by Nancy Gorsuch
Religion in Politics and Society by Kelly and Messina
The New Testament Background by Charles Barrett
Crossing the Racial Divide by editors of Sojourners (curriculum)
20 Prayer Lessons for Children by Wezeman and Fournier (children’s sermon resource)
Prayers for a Sojourning People by Susan Gregg-Schroeder (prayers for pastoral care with lens of process theology)
America’s Original Sin: A Study Guide on White Racism by editors of Sojourners
Understanding the Bible by Stephen Harris
NOT PICTURED: The Whispering Word: A Theology of Preaching by Marjorie Suchocki (process theology)

General religion (including a small handful of religion and sexuality)

General religion (including a small handful of religion and sexuality)

Coming Out Spiritually: The Next Step by Christian de la Huerta
Blessed Bi Spirit: Bisexual People of Faith by Debra Kolodny (anthology)
The Political Meaning of Christianity: An Interpretation by Glenn Tinder
Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides
The Growth of the Early Church by W. A. Carleton
Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism by Walter Brueggemann
Companions in Christ Participant’s Book
Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2011 by the Irish Jesuits
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (fiction)

General religion

General religion

The People’s Mass Book (1975)
Talking about Genesis: A Resource Guide by Public Affairs Television (companion publication to Bill Moyers’ tv series on Genesis)
The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey
Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon
God’s Grace and Man’s Hope by Daniel Day Williams
The Song of the Seed by Macrina Weiderkehr
Simply Christian by N.T. Wright
Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent by Richard Rohr
Enduring Issues in Religion by John Lyden
Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas Gandhi
The Talmud and the Internet by Jonathan Rosen
The Divine Library by Rufus C. Camphausen

General religion

General religion

Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism by Anonymous
Basic Writings of Mo Tzu, Hsun Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu translated by Burton Watson
A Modern Shaman’s Guide to Reality Selection by Alli and Wilson
Rituals for our Times: Celebrating, Healing and Changing Our Lives and Our Relationships by Evan Imber-Black Ph.D. and Janine Roberts Ph.D.
From Beginning to End: The Rituals of our Lives by Robert Fulghum
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
Awareness by Anthony de Mello
Sadhana: A Way to God by Anthony de Mello
Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion by James C. Livingston
Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet by Thomas Dubay
The Religions of Mankind by Hans-Joachim Schoeps

Oversized Religion and Pastoral

Oversized Religion and Pastoral

Kundalini Coloring Book
Augsburg Historical Atlas of Christianity in the Middle Ages and Reformation
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf
by Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D.

Published in: on January 16, 2014 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Learning Goals for 2014

My 2013 goals either went wildly well til the end, or crashed spectacularly at some point in the year of health surprises. I’m pleased with all I got done. I’ll keep what stuck. I’m revamping what didn’t, and I’m adding another idea or two.

I should add that I don’t intend this as an unchangeable plan for 2014. I don’t think of changes that arise as failures to keep “resolutions”. In fact, I have a book I’ll be reading soon on developing our own rule of life, and the experience of reading that may well significantly change my plans. But for now, I’m pursuing these specific activities, with particular time goals (to give a sense of accomplishment and a concrete measure of success on rough days/weeks).

Reading Life – continuation of old goal
I loved how this goal last year opened me up to new stories and new ideas. It felt nourishing and felt like it kept my attention on knowledge and stories that I intentionally chose (rather than whatever visual media happened to be close by).

I finished the year right at 60 books read (with an intentional push to move to 60 from 56 near the end). But I DON’T want to focus on number of books, as alluring as that is. When it’s a number, it becomes a chore; books become things to complete rather than time to enjoy. It also narrows my book selection process and discourages me from trying more intimidating titles. No, an amount of time spent reading each week is best.

3 hours a week, any combination

Life of Movement – new structure to goal
Last year I had workout goals, specifically because working out made me feel good.
Movement is a lot more complicated now, with a mobility issue. But in the confusion of finding exercise that works for me, I don’t want to forget how good it feels to simply move… not moving to get my heart rate up, or moving to increase muscle mass, or moving to turn somebody on. Those can be enjoyable, but they all restrict movement beyond what simply feels good.


Intentional movement. Whatever feels good. No one watching. (Stillness counts, if it feels good and is done intentionally.). 10 minutes a day.

Prayer Life – new goal
It’s been ages since I pursued prayer time. Really, ages.

The key is finding my current ideal balance of structure and chaos.

For now, I want devotional time each week that is part reading, part silence/contemplation (in a lectio divina style, if you’re familiar with it). The reading can be psalms, but no other scripture (the rest too easily leads me to textual study, not spiritual reflection). The reading can be other books of a devotional nature too (Gabe just got me two wonderful ones).

Slowness of reading is encouraged, so there’s no required length of text (like a daily Bible reading plan might have). It’s about savoring and letting the reading sink in.

1 hour a week for now (60 minutes at once, or in 20 or 30 minute intervals throughout the week)

Creative Life – new goal
I get in my own way of making things, pretty relentlessly.

I hope this year I can push myself a bit to make stuff – and *complete* making stuff! – g
But again, there’s a balance to strike, between encouraging completion of projects, and making room to work on said projects nonlinearly. I don’t want to get fixated on results/volume, but I do want to push myself to try arts and crafts that I delay and postpone. I want to unblock my own relationship to my own imagination, and find a disciplined approach to imagining.

I think 90 minutes a week sounds like a reasonable chunk. This is the goal where parameters don’t feel adequate yet. I’m hoping in practicing the goal, I will refine it.

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  


(Trigger warnings: this post includes explicit talk about sexual activity, genitals, and a brief mention of a threat of violence.)

This post is part of Queer Theology’s Queer Synchroblog 2013.

The Initiation

The initiation was supposed to happen May of 2014. It is then that I’ll turn forty.

There’s many more positive messages available these days about women over forty than there used to be. But when I was coming up, forty was the most hotly contested age for a woman. When I was a very young kid, a woman’s life was supposed to be over at 40. At 10 I watched my mother find her fortieth birthday humiliating. That elusive “real womanhood” was revoked from anyone who had it once they turned forty. I have an imprint of that information somewhere deep in me, along with a ghost of a counter-image: some commercials for hair dye and the like with that capitalist co-opting of “empowerment”: your life doesn’t have to be over/don’t grow old gracefully/buy our shit and maybe you’ll still be a woman. During my teenage years and my twenties, though, I began exploring feminism, and I began finding communities of non-heteronormative sexualities. And there I found a flip side with substance to it: women that had begun embracing themselves at forty and older. They were fortysomething when they came out. They were fortysomething when they started the career they really wanted. The other side of the big 4-0 coin I saw was a lot of women coming into their own at forty, and that I found far more alluring as a milestone. As hard as I’ve worked to find myself and build myself, I expected that finally being forty would mean I’d made it — I’d survived intact, and I’d learned. I imagined I could look back and see that I had been created – and had then created my self – in wonderful ways. And I’d be that much more me, that much more comfortable, that much happier in my own skin.

So as my fortieth birthday came over the far horizon – about a year and a half before its arrival – I began planning. I knew I wanted a meaningful celebration. For me, that means no huge party. Instead, I wanted a new tattoo. I wanted a trip with my chosen family. And I wanted… to do something terrifying. To face a fear on my terms. The first real candidate I found for the leap of terror was jumping out of an airplane for the first time. I dreamt, and I waited.

That was the plan. The initiation was supposed to happen next year.

What I didn’t plan was the pain. The pain started in the first couple of days of May in 2013.


I’m very grateful now for every scrap of radical thought that has passed across my psychic desk. I’m grateful for the current self of mine that each of those moments – these brushes with grace – has created and is creating.

I’m grateful for the anti-capitalism that has seeped into me. For so many years, productivity and work were driven into me as vital values — ‘value’ in the monetary sense, not in the moral sense. Much of my Christian walk has reinforced that valuing of action and activism, doing and getting done, productivity for and usefulness to an employer who was now God. But there was a voice long ago that began with small questions and got louder and louder. And now I have, more than once in my life, valued my precious self separate and apart from my paycheck and my job performance.

I am grateful for every moment I’ve spent soaking up a deeply-rooted body positivity. I’m grateful for a valuing of flesh that goes beyond valuing pleasure (though pleasure is important), and that avoids the pitfall of universalizing some “common” human experience of embodiment. I am thankful for all the lessons I’ve received in a body positivity that values difference, values specificity, values real individuals with real uniqueness. I’m grateful for every time I’ve practiced a mindful approach to physical activity, for every moment that I’ve spent over the years valuing where I am specifically, right now, and what I can do today as something sacred… every one of those moments is saving my life right now.

I’m grateful for body theology, for every time I’ve considered the fact that this body is me, for every moment I’ve known that life as this flesh is my primary text for knowing God, my living document of divine love. Every experience I have of this world is from this body, as this body. Every relationship I have is rooted in this body. I’m not sure I would have the audacity to insist on valuing this pained flesh, insist on valuing my changing needs were it not for every moment spent practicing this knowledge.

unfinished self portrait

A Summer of Swelling

One of the first teasing explanations we made for the growing ache was that my cock was having growing pains.

I was designated female at birth, and I never questioned that identity directly, until the last couple of years. This summer I’ve explored aspects of my genderqueerness – of my transgender self – in ways I never have before. I’ve opened up to my partner and myself simultaneously, and I have been amazed by what I’ve found. So, even though I haven’t explored any ways to change my physical self, a strange new passing genital pain seemed oddly reasonable at first.

After a few days I was back to “normal”, back to my well-known-to-me queer body. (If we use ‘queer’ as a verb, how well can we know a queer body? Is queer flesh so constantly defying definition that we are unknowable even to our queer selves… are we the Ultimate Mystery? I wonder sometimes.)

But the pattern continued. The pain came, and went, and came again, for longer and longer periods. The pain is primarily in my clitoris, and I am learning new levels of continuous pain I didn’t know existed. Our best guess through the weeks of May… and then one by one through the weeks of June… is a strangely behaving, recurring yeast infection.

July comes, and this queer body has been in bed a lot. A lot of work has been missed. Sometimes it seems my genitals may still bud a new penis — maybe I get to have one? I’ve always wondered what a penis feels like from the inside — for the tremendous swelling and redness going on between my legs. I often couldn’t walk without pain, or lay on my side. I am kinky, and I have experience with consensual pain. I can’t decide whether this makes the nonconsensual pain easier or more difficult. No pain is easy, but I feel layers of societal shit in this specific, sharp, clitoral pain: fears of rape, threats of rape, threats of losing bodily and sexual autonomy, the realities of me losing bodily and sexual autonomy. I do not consent to this pain.

I meet with a specialist and get a biopsy done of my labia. Recovering from having a chunk cut out of my vulva doesn’t feel much different than the last few weeks have.

July 12 I get a diagnosis. The term is lichen sclerosis, and it’s a rare autoimmune disorder. Pain and itching are common. The skin of the genitals gets inflamed, white and patchy, thin and easily cracked and torn. Scar tissue can develop. Scar tissue can close my vagina or cover over my clitoris. Some of this is worst case. Some of this happens when it’s not treated. We don’t know how mine will develop. Stories online include terrible years of problems, or few problems at all. Doctors say many folks respond well to treatment. Many folks use the internet to vent. It’s frightening. I don’t know what happens next.

Spoons get so elusive

Faith and Spoons*

Can I still follow Jesus flat on my back, unable to move much?

Am I still a theologian when pain prevents me from thinking clearly?

Does being a good Christian mean always striving to follow well? What if I don’t have the spoons to strive?

What does living my faith look like when my biggest need is rest?

Years of Christian fellowship – and a Master of Divinity degree – leave me wholly unprepared for these questions.

Time and Pain

I’m writing this on September 12, the two month anniversary of my diagnosis. I stayed home from work today and likely will tomorrow. I’m becoming certain that I’m disappointing my coworker and boss, but my partner has made it clear that taking care of me is my first priority. There has been terrible pain pretty constantly for two weeks; I powered through a lot of it, still going to work, and it’s eased up some now. But I’m more exhausted than I knew I could be.

Faith and Healing

Much of my years spent as a hospital chaplain were spent exploring questions about God and healing — about God’s power and suffering, and how those two things interact. I never did figure out why someone would worship an omnipotent God. It’s never appealed to me. If a God could stop suffering, but doesn’t… I just don’t want to know them, much less worship them. That’s just me. I mostly kept that to myself.

Queer Flesh

I’ve long resonated with multiple definitions of the word “queer”: as an umbrella term that encompassed both my bisexuality and the long-unnamed elements of my gender identity; as synonymous with being anti-assimilationist in a heteronormative society; and as a verb that means turning things on their head. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures have a fair amount of upside-down-edness, from the underdogs that the God of the Hebrew texts often champions, to the bizarre new kind of upside-down lordship and kingdom Jesus describes. I see all my scriptures as attempts to upend the status quo, uproot settled power structures, and to center those of our community members with the least power as full human beings and sacred human bodies with voices and power and beauty. I understand from my scriptures that justice and peace stem from valuing human bodies as sacred. In the Christian stories, God so loved human flesh that God couldn’t stop Godself from becoming some flesh.

The Disabled God

Nancy Eiesland changed my life when I read her book, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Her response to the deeply-embedded ableism of Christianity is to make us all aware that a resurrected Christ is a disabled Christ, with impaired hands, feet, and side. His is not the perfect vision that we often define as “health”. His divine body is not an unblemished body. Christ the resurrected and disabled God responds directly to many of our stereotypes of people with disabilities. He is not to be pitied. He is not a picture of noble suffering. He is not romanticized as a stoic, heroic overcomer of obstacles. Jesus Christ the disabled God bears dignity, survivorhood and interdependence into the Godhead. This sacred interdependence blesses each of us when we need help from others. The disabled God is a God who “celebrates joy and experiences pain not separate in time and space, but simultaneously.”** This blesses a critical part of my own current existence, my own current body. God Godself finds wholeness and hope with disability. To paraphrase and embrace an insight from Eiesland, the existence of a disabled God makes it possible for me and for others to bear nonconventional bodies. This insight echoes into creating queer lives as well.

Holy Bed, Holy Comforter, Holy Pillow -- sacred trilogy, hear my prayer

Privilege and Intersectionality

I’ve had privilege. I’ve had cis privilege. My gender nonconformity has not yet exposed me to physical violence. While it has shaped job choices, it has not generally closed doors I was interested in opening. I didn’t feel entirely dead inside whenever I’ve been named female. I feel partly seen… though I still mourn and have always mourned all the ways my father never saw me as a boy.

I’ve got privilege to still assume I won’t always have this trouble getting to work, getting around a store, getting out of bed. It’s possible I won’t have mobility issues for the rest of my life. When the pain hits, I do often forget this privilege. But assumptions that come with being able-bodied still float to the surface every few days: the pain should be gone by now. I shouldn’t have to make these accommodations anymore. How much longer will this phase last? I float between various self-definitions of being disabled, being chronically ill, being temporarily out of commission, getting a health issue “under control”. I wonder if it’s okay or not to call myself disabled. I look up definitions of chronic pain. I don’t want to appropriate. What’s appropriation and what’s denial? I don’t have a way of knowing what my LS will look like. So what role does the possible course of my illness play in defining me now? How does my (lack of) knowledge of my own future shape my identity now?

I have privilege. I don’t have health insurance, but I have the money to have seen a third doctor, someone who knew enough to diagnosis a rare condition. I have a diagnosis that we think is helping. I still have my flexible job in a forgiving, caring setting, which helps, and I’m not sure someone non-white would have been hired there.

I have white privilege. I’ll never know how hard it is for all my other identities to intersect with non-whiteness. I won’t ever know the types of ableism and sexism and heterosexism that people of color endure. I try to understand, and even in that, I have the choice whether to try.

What does it mean for me to embrace the identities of chronically ill and bigender in the same month? I wonder just that even as I’m certain it will take years for the answer to unfold. I can still remember the moment a few months ago where I realized I would still be fat as a boy too. It was a surprise. Embodiment is a complex thing. I am incredibly grateful that my sex life with my partner doesn’t center on the penis-in-vagina sex that I can’t currently have and which may get more difficult over time even on my vulva’s best days. I am thankful for the practice I already have including “prostheses” as important parts of my own body that can bring sexual pleasure. It makes for amazing, deeply satisfying sex when my partner sucks my cock, with that cock carefully placed wherever is most comfortable for me. It is one way among many that we find accessible sexual activity, suited specifically to our bodies.

Facing a Fear on My Terms

I did not choose this pain. I did not choose this fear. I did not choose this initiation. This was not part of the plan, any plan. Coming to terms with chronic genital pain has been terrifying. Hopelessness and despair have never been far away in my inner landscape anyway, and I have sometimes greatly feared getting lost in waves of one or both. But I am not as hopeless as I feared. I am not as despairing as I worried I would be. I’m not sure I could name those realities as being by choice… at least not entirely. But hope is surviving and I’m thankful for that. I know that my life is meaningful and worth having with the pain. And I know I’m not alone, even inside this flesh, even inside pain. I am co-creating this queer life with a loving God.

So far, I cry and I hope and I manage and I’m greatly blessed. I laugh too. I did choose to unfold more and more of myself and my gender as I get older. Though I did not know its exact form beforehand, I did choose that initiation as one that brings me more peace, and more self love. My current capacity for love and hope and peace owes a large debt to many theologians who have named what is Empire and what is not — body theologians and queer theologians and liberation theologians of disability. I have blessings that include a complex and God-given gender. I have blessings that include a beautiful queer body created and re-created, and re-created again, in multiple images of God.

I believe I will still celebrate 40 by getting a tattoo. There may be a family trip as well. Mobility issues might change my bodyweight in a way that will preclude parachuting out of an airplane; rather than worry about that, I’m considering a plan to shave my head for the first time, and confront a lifetime of baggage around hair, beauty and gender. I do still want to confront a fear I can choose and control. But it now feels much more symbolic as an act than it did. It feels sacramental, in a way: an outward and visible experience of an inward, tangible, lived grace. It is a remembrance and reflection of life with intersecting fear, joy, love and pain within queerness and resistance. I still find comfort in being myself… though my relationship to and definition of physical comfort is transforming. I continue to be – and continue to become – happier in my own skin than anywhere else.

*Spoon Theory was created by Christine Miserandino
**Quotation from The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Eiesland, 1994) appears on p. 103 of the book. The paraphrase is from information on p.105.

Drawings by the author.


This post is a part of the 2013 Queer Theology Synchroblog. The theme this year is queer creation. The master post is here, and here are the entries!

Queering Our Reading of the Bible by Dwight Welch

Queer Creation in art: Who says God didn’t create Adam and Steve? by Kittrdge Cherry

Of The Creation of Identity (Also the Creation of Religion) by Colin & Terri

God, the Garden, & Gays: Homosexuality in Genesis by Brian G. Murphy, for Queer Theology

Created Queerly–Living My Truth by Casey O’Leary

Creating Theology by Fr. Shannon Kearns

Initiation by Blessed Harlot

B’reishit: The Divine Act of Self-Creation by Emily Aviva Kapor

Queer Creation: Queering the Image of God by Alan Hooker

Queer Creation by Ric Stott

Eunuch-Inclusive Esther–Queer Theology 101 by Peterson Toscano

Valley of Dry Bones by Jane Brazelle

Queer Creation: Queer Angel by Tony Street

The Great Welcoming by Anna Spencer

Queer Creation by Billy Flood

The Mystery of an Outlandishly Queer Creation by Susan Cottrell

We’ve Been Here All Along by Brian Gerald Murphy

God Hirself: A Theology by T. Thorn Coyle

The Objectification of God by Marg Herder

Coming Out As Embodiments of God Herself by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

An Interview by Katy

On Creation and Belonging by Andrew Watson

Creation by Liam Haakon Smith

Practically Creating Practical Queer Theology by Talia Johnson

Inspired Possibility: Opening the Gift of the Queer Soul by Keisha McKenzie

Oh What A Difference A Pope Makes! by Hilary Howes

I’m Really Angry by John Smid

Focus on the (Chosen) Family by Brian Cubbage

The Goddex by Thorin Sorensen

Coming Out As She Was Created by Liz Dyer

Published in: on September 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm  Comments (8)  

Checking in on 2013 Goals

I started the year with 6 goals, and reflecting on how they’ve gone so far is an interesting exercise. Here’s the lay of the land:

1) Daily Bible readings in a Bible-in-a-year plan
2) Three hours of reading a week

These have gone spectacularly. I have an app for the daily Bible readings, and have kept up nicely (with only a little catch-up here and there). I’m reading stuff that I really can’t remember reading before. If I actually did read, say, Proverbs, it was with such speed and busyness in grad school that it might as well have never happened. (Of course, I was so bored this time during Proverbs in particular that I’m not certain I retained any more information). Most of this reading has been enriching and satisfying in multiple ways, though there’s no time to pause and study more in depth. I’d like to continue the daily reading after this plan is done, either through another yearly plan (perhaps chronologically by estimated writing date, instead of this year’s canonical plan) or shorter focused studies.

The weekly time goal for reading has also stuck as a habit, to the point that I don’t keep up anymore with adding up minutes, as it’s obvious by week’s end that I’ve done at least three hours. This is my first time focusing on time as a goal, rather than focusing on number of books completed, and it really removes a lot of my reading anxiety. I suspect that my reading project for the year — reading only authors that aren’t entirely ciswhitehetmales — has also sparked a lot of reading interest for me this year too. I’ve just found the most amazing stuff. For comparison’s sake, I’ve read 33 books this year so far. In all of 2012 I read 15.

3) Give something away each month

This has met with some success so far, in developing as a habit. The vagueness of it actually gets my imagination going. It’s encouraged me in particular so far to let go of good clothing in my closet, and to look for ways to purchase new needed items for other folks. I haven’t successfully fulfilled this goal each and every month. But I’m hoping the rest of the year will include me shaping this habit further.

4) 10 intense workouts each month
5) Trying a new exercise this month

I was steadily *almost* making these each month, until my pain started in May. Since then, my health has not allowed for these.

They’re good goals for me, in another circumstance, and I’ll hold them in reserve until I can work with them again. The “intense” definition allows for a lot of flexibility (long cardio, weightlifting, etc) and I can make that work for me.

6) Train and run/walk a half-marathon in December, bringing my time down under 4 hours

I won’t be able to do this. It would not be good for me, and I can’t in good conscience pursue it, because of a diagnosis I received this month where such training could lead to painful and problematic scarring.

I may be able to run/racewalk later in my life. But it’s not the best focus for me now. I’m very sad about that. But I know I’ll find other ways to enjoy moving. That goal #5 will help with this, when the time comes. I have also changed my gym situation so that, as soon as I am able, I have a variety of free yoga classes available to me, which I’m very excited about.

Published in: on July 27, 2013 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Have A New Diagnosis

Some of you are aware that I’ve been dealing with genital pain and swelling, centered on my clit and labia minora, for about 2.5 months. I had mobility issues (both in walking and in sitting in most chairs), and had to take time off work for that and for multiple visits to three separate doctor’s offices. There were tests, and a lot of wondering what was wrong, and a lot of ruling out of things.

At one point I tested positive for a yeast infection, and we thought all of the trouble might be traced back to some kind of stubborn fungus. I took a lot of antifungals and I began to adjust myself to the idea that I’d be fighting recurring fungal infections for the long-term. But, it turns out, that was not what was causing most of the symptoms.

The biopsy of my labia done on Monday came back positive on Friday, for something called lichen sclerosis. Lichen sclerosis is an autoimmune-related inflammation of the skin, usually of the genitals. It can happen in bodies that have vaginas, penises, or any combination, at any age, but most often happens in folks with uteri and vaginas after cessation of menstrual cycles (I’m not there yet, but I’m probably early perimenopausal). Lichen sclerosis symptoms often include recurrent itching and pain, and thinning and wrinkling of the genital skin. There’s potential for easy breakage of the skin, the labia shrinking in size, and for the build-up of significant scar tissue.

I’m still learning what this means for me. There’s no way to know for sure now what my LS will look like over the years. The debilitating pain I’ve had these months is from *untreated* LS, and now we *know* what it is. I’m feeling both sadness and relief about this. Our next treatment goal is to get the uncontrolled inflammation under control, with daily use of steroid cream. After some weeks/months of that, we hope to be able to taper me down to maintenance levels of various medications. There are hormone creams that can help with the skin thinning, and should there eventually be scar tissue build-up, there are laser and cryo procedures that may address that well. It’s a chronic illness, that may cause trouble for short or long periods of time, and/or may go into remission for years. I will be dealing with the possibility of LS flaring up and causing pain and changes to my genitals for the rest of my life, and I will make daily decisions to either address it if symptoms are present or minimize the possibility of flare-up if they’re not. My family and docs and I will need to keep a closer eye out for certain vulvar cancers, which I have some elevated risk for. The LS will undoubtedly have a long-term impact on my sex life, at the very least giving us pause to decide what activities are best for me at any given time. Hopefully, though, the complete moratorium on any action between my legs that I’ve had for the last 10 weeks won’t be the norm. I may also soon have fewer times of profoundly reduced mobility; if they come again, they should be at least much fewer and farther between.

I’m a bit terrified, and right now I’m quite sad. But I’m relieved – we’re ALL relieved – to finally know what we’re dealing with. I am optimistic that this can be managed well. It sounds like a lot of people respond well to the treatments and procedures available. It also seems that I found a knowledgeable doctor that caught this much earlier in the scarring process than is common. Maybe there was an upside to this starting near my clit, and causing such a high level of pain so quickly directly from inflammation, rather than low level vulvar itching and scarring happening over a longer period of time.

I’m so tremendously thankful for a family that’s supportive and encouraging and funny and loving. I’m thankful that creativity is already a major element of my sex life, which makes a satisfying future sex life a lot easier to imagine. I’m thankful that’s it’s not a more dangerous problem. I’m thankful that my job is flexible enough to not have been threatened by these difficult few weeks. We’re lucky to have the resources to pay for my medical care out of pocket (I have no insurance). I’m tired and sad and in pain still. But I’m better than I have been for weeks.

Published in: on July 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm  Comments (1)  

The Mustard Seeds and the Empire

Queer like a freedom too strange to be conquered. – Brandon Wint (found on tumblr)

From youth, people have constantly attacked me—
let Israel now repeat!—
from youth people have constantly attacked me—
but they haven’t beaten me!
They plowed my back like farmers;
they made their furrows deep.
But the Lord is righteous—
God cut me free from the ropes of the wicked!
— Psalms 129:1-4 CEB

Anti-oppression work is really important to me. And it’s important to me to keep doing it, whether or not I get any results or get any good at it. It’s the hoping and doing that’s important. It keeps me alive by actively respecting the ways that we are all connected as human beings.

And anti-oppression work right now is centered around seeing certain structures in place in our world. These structures involve systemic racism, sexism, cissexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, and all the other ways that human lives are compared to one another in order to find someone lacking and less valuable and someone else as more valuable or “whole”. I will call this deeply embedded system Empire. It’s vital to me to keep trying to understand Empire.

Specifically being able to locate Empire has led to having more freedom in my life. It’s led to more connection as I understand how Empire affects each of us uniquely, and as I yearn for all of us together to be free of it.

When Christ saw suffering, he felt it deep in his guts. It overwhelmed him. I’m nowhere near that skilled at compassion, but I still got overwhelmed by others’ suffering at an early age. I was never taught how to manage that – as no one around me really valued those feelings in the first place – and a fair portion of decisions in my life have probably been decided from a place of trying to manage that empathy. And I think this level of empathy is common in a lot of us who do anti-oppression work. Sometimes we do whatever we do to fight Empire for ourselves or our friends and neighbors. Sometimes we do what we do because seeing others’ pain reminds us of moments of pain in our lives, or reminds us of our own luck, or frailty. Sometimes we do it because suffering isn’t ever that far away from us in our own heads, and being of some use to another or easing someone else’s pain can help us all stay alive.

As I said before, it’s vital to me to keep trying to understand Empire. But it can be easy to forget that there’s no life force in Empire. Plants grow toward the sun that feeds them, but there’s nothing in Empire that feeds. I need to make sure and get fed elsewhere. I need to remember to find structures that *nourish*, that don’t destroy. I need to remember to stay very near those things that make life worth living.

To borrow phrasing from Kate Bornstein: the key is to find where Empire *is*, and then go *someplace else.* (She uses this idea to leave gender, not Empire. But I think there’s truth in my sentence too.) I need to keep in mind that I’m learning about Empire not to get closer to it, but specifically to know exactly where it is, so that I can go exist someplace else.

Now, when I say “someplace else”, I’m not talking geographically. There’s no nation somewhere devoid of Empire… at least not for long. But there’s mental spaces and emotional spaces and spiritual spaces and fleshy spaces where Empire *can’t* go. And I must remember this, and not forget. Empire loves to condense the universe down to only the places it can reach. But there are planes of existence that Empire cannot comprehend and cannot enter. Some are broad expanses in the opposite direction from Empire. And some are whole universes hidden just adjacent to Empire, in the cracks Empire leaves.

That time you have felt the freest you’ve ever felt? That’s still somewhere in you… in some bones or some squishy parts somewhere. You will always carry that knowledge in your body, and Empire will never understand how to be inside that freedom. It’s a freedom too strange to be conquered. The times we’ve connected with others in ways that made us feel bigger and truer… those realities are inside us and a part of us too. Empire has no idea how to be in those places. The times when you and I have loved and been loved… every single ounce of love and care and nourishment poured into or out of us, whether we realized it or not… all of that is still in us. Whether the person stayed in our lives a long time or a short time. Whether the person was us or someone else. Every moment of true care given to us or by us shines in us. It multiplies the substance of our self and feeds us and holds us up. It makes us real and strong. Empire is left lost and impotent at the thinnest presence of love.

This is what the kingdom of God is like, to me. It’s paradoxical. It’s not subject to the laws of physics. It’s the realm of the Creator of the entire universe, and it’s tiny, like a mustard seed. It cannot sweep in like a military general and force itself into this world; it’s hidden. And yet, it is as prevalent as water, as yeast and bread, and as the earth we travel upon. It is poetic and truthful, and defies description. It is the force of new life bringing itself forth. It is craving and passion and creativity within us. It is our own desire for freedom, for self-expression and self-determination.

I think my faith asks me to be two different bodies at once, in the same flesh — my compassionate body and my kingdom body. Christ suffered and felt the suffering of others. And I believe as a Christian I’m called to be present to my own suffering and others’ as much as I am able to — and honestly, sometimes I can’t do one, or the other, or both. That’s okay. I’m never going to hold it all. I’ve tried. Sometimes I still try. And Empire is built to make me feel like a failure, and make itself feel inevitable. Inevitable because I’m human and limited, and we’re all human and limited. And we won’t ever make Empire go away.

I’m never going to be able to hold all of humanity or all of suffering or all of Empire in this body, not entirely. I’m not meant to. There’s something else far more important to hold in this flesh too: the kingdom. The reality of all the times I’ve been loved, or been free, or been truthful about who I am. All the times I’ve been happy or joyous or ecstatic. All the times people I love have been near me. All the times I feel God. Those are all, always present in me. With each one of these experiences the kingdom grows, in this body and in this world. The more time I spend in this space, the more I exist and the fuller I grow. The more time I spend exploring and creating this mental, spiritual and/or physical space, the more it is available to all of us, regardless of common physical constrictions.

The point of understanding Empire is to know right where it is, so that we can go someplace else — above or underneath or around back of Empire. Between or through or behind Empire.

There’s plenty of things that the kingdom is like. The kingdom of God is like a zine. The kingdom of God is like a tumblr account. The kingdom of God is like the kitchen dance of people cooking something together. The kingdom of God is like the way you identify your gender today.

Do these two bodies, these two fleshy existences coexist? Absolutely. Are they opposites? Not at all. For where there is suffering, there is God also.

But I have to remind myself that my human mind cannot simultaneously focus on Empire and on the kingdom. I must lead myself to one or the other. I study the former not as an end unto itself, but only to better understand the latter. And that perhaps for each hour I spend studying Empire, I need to spend some amount of time seeking the kingdom. For it is there where we are all truly valued, and replenished, and loved.

Published in: on July 10, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Racist and Anti-Racist

I’m white/European-American and recently added “racist and anti-racist” to my Twitter bio. I’m writing about that not because it’s a great feat of any sort. But it’s a reflection of something important to me and something I want to write down here… just in case anyone asks what the hell I’m getting at. It’s a reflection of an identity I’m trying to own.

I’m not even sure how to talk about this. My language, knowledge and training are profoundly inadequate.

I’ve been expanding my Twitter timeline more actively lately, and I’ve found several people saying really important things on vital, life-giving subjects. Some directly engage race issues, like Bruce Reyes-Chow, who just came out with the book But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race, and Cristina Cleveland, who does work around understanding privilege, and rooting out white supremacy in the body of Christ, making space for Christians to truly value diversity. I follow Janet Mock, an advocate for trans folk and for trans people of color especially, educating our culture regarding some of the challenges faced at the intersection of gender and race. They are authors and activists putting themselves out there as touchpoints for conversations that need to happen. So, I know I’m actively invited to follow them even as I’m often challenged and intimidated by what they say and the good work they do.

I follow other strangers that simply come from a different racial background than me, and others who are white but get caught up in certain race-related issues. I’ve recently followed several Muslim women of different racial backgrounds, and I learn from them about their lives, and about Islam and the intersections of race, ethnicity and religion. I have no personal connection to Islam, though, and a little secondhand knowledge of it. Gaining knowledge is part of the reason I’m following their Twitter accounts, and my understanding is that I’m invited (in general, not individually) to follow their thoughts. I’m not unwelcome, I don’t think, or I’d leave. Mostly, I shut up and listen/read. I do worry sometimes though, especially when they say something I want to retweet, if a RT functions as a respectful notation/passing along of ideas… or if it takes certain information, filtered through my interests/desires, out of context in disrespectful ways.

And I wonder in interacting with all of them, their Twitter lives and insights and work and persons, how I can best do that without being a douchebag.

I’ve spent most of my life exploring justice issues, but it’s been years since I’ve directly studied race issues, their effect on me and my impact on issues of race. This reality is directly tied to the enormous amount of white privilege I have. I have benefitted every day of my life from racist structures. I have had the luxury of going weeks, months or years without thinking much about my race if I don’t want to. I know I was trained to be racist, and that I still am, and that I will continue to be even as I hate being racist and try not to be.

I’m looking for ways to understand my privilege, and learn more about what I don’t know. I’m looking to understand my own culture better, and how it differs from other cultures, so I don’t project it or its standards onto other people (or, if that’s impossible, do it less). I’m looking for that balance of speaking up when I can accomplish something that lessens oppression in the world, and shutting up when my input would increase oppressive control over others. I hope to keep learning about other folks’ lives and lived cultural connections without simplifying, colonizing or appropriating (if that’s possible).

So, in case you were wondering, that’s what I mean when I say I’m racist and antiracist.

Published in: on July 6, 2013 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wherein Wesley fans are again in the minority (S03:01)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

One of Wesley’s experiments threatens the ship’s safety and a scientist’s rare chance for data gathering.

This is the dreaded nanite episode: Wesley built microscopic robots and accidentally looses them on the ship’s computer. It seems at this point in time that the writers just can’t do anything right with Wesley; whether he’s saving the ship or nearly destroying it, fans don’t like him. But, as you know, I’m fond of Wesley, and overidentified with him as a kid (I do wonder how many angry fans just didn’t like awkward reminders of their own adolescence). Beverly worries here that he’s “too good”, a worry I had about myself as I worked so hard, pouring all my energy into following everyone’s rules and expectations of me. As Wesley worries that he’s responsible for damaging the ship, he’s asks if he’ll get a good grade on the project. He dejectedly comments that he “always gets an A”, something else I could relate to — the fact that the grades that others demanded and so highly valued were entirely unrelated to the seemingly life-and-death situations I was otherwise making. Wes doesn’t get a huge amount of counsel from adults here (which is usually what I worked so hard to absorb from his character). But I could relate to his angst, and I felt far less alone during episodes like these. And the adults in the episode deal with learning how to move forward from initial mistakes in a relationship. I valued exposure to that lesson.


Published in: on June 8, 2013 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment