Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some New Years Reso-ma-lutions

An Ebenezer!
I promised to actually write on my own blog instead of always linking to my work on other blogs, and I'm following through.  This one's for here.

I can't help it; I'm a sucker for new year's resolutions.  I know January 1st is really no different than any other 24-hour day.  I know I can "start my best life now," whenever "now" happens to be.  But there's something about New Year's Day that feels like the first crisp page of a journal.  Plus it's a memorable marker in time.  So here I raise my Ebenezer.

You may have no interest in reading my resolutions, and you're welcome to stop reading now - I'm just using you for my own purposes.  When I make these resolutions public, it helps me keep them - it worked for me a couple years ago when I posted my resolution to blog each month.  Even if no one reads this, I'll still behave as though someone did.  It's like having an unknown number of accountability partners, which is great for a people-pleaser like me.    :)

In 2015, here's what I want to especially practice:

1. I will practice gratitude.  
I recently read Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts."  I had been hesitant to read it, despite many recommendations.  Maybe it was just the cover with the dress and the bird's nest, but "30-something lesbian" did not seem to be its target market.  Expecting it to be fluffy Christian mom stuff, I sampled chapter one, and ended up reading the whole book in one sitting.  Without skirting around the suffering and depression we all experience, Voskamp convinces you of your need to practice gratitude, to document specific things you're grateful for in your day as they happen.  This has the lovely side effect of making you fully present in those moments, "weighing them down with your full attention," so that instead of feeling like you're always running out of time, you actually start to feel like you're filling up with these exquisite slivers of time.  I've been trying this a bit during the Christmas season, and it totally works.  It's reminding me of times in my life when I was so much more aware of and grateful for God's presence... my very first sermon was about "praying with your eyes open," but I lost practice.  On Christmas morning, I got a little notebook in my stocking, and I knew instantly what it would be for.  My list begins tomorrow, and we'll see how long it takes to get to one thousand. I'm also going to carry my camera around a lot more, so I can document the things I'm grateful for in more visual ways.

2. I will practice contemplation.

I'm one of those people who gets the Richard Rohr e-mails every day, but who rarely puts his words into practice.  He writes a lot about contemplation - having short times of silent meditation built into your day, time to simply and wordlessly sit with God.  Over a lifetime, this actually begins changing the pathways in your brain and helps you react differently to stress, and develop more of an ability to listen to God.  I've tried this on and off in the past, but with my current work and its "word-iness" and increased potential for situations of conflict and criticism, I think it's time to make this a regularly scheduled morning activity.  

3. I will practice seeing God as female.  

I believe God has no gender.  But despite this head-belief, I've spent my entire life imagining and referring to God as male.  Because patriarchy.  To be honest, I've always thought that Christians who used feminine terms for God were New Age-y and weird, but lately I've realized it's equally weird to default to masculine God images.  I'm not very good at imagining gender-less beings, so I figured that one year of picturing a female God would at least begin to bring some balance to my thirty years of male God.  For this year, when I pray, I will try to focus on God's feminine characteristics.  When someone uses male pronouns for God, I will change them to female pronouns in my head.  I say "in my head" because being a gay Christian makes me edgy enough, and I want to keep building bridges like Sarah Bessey, so I will refrain from publicly referring to God as "She" for now.  Maybe that will be an experiment for 2016...

4. I will practice using social media in ways that don't make me crazy.

I actually have no idea how to do this, so this is more of a confession of un-health and a request for suggestions.  Here's the problem: I was barely managing my online life with email, Facebook and blog-reading. Just barely.  But then Eric Garner happened, and I realized that my Twitter feed was all over it, while my Facebook feed remained silent on the topic.  So now I have taken up tweeting and following Twitter regularly, and guys, it's pushing me over the edge.  The digital chatter is constant and hard to escape.  Every time I dip my toes into the online stream I feel swept away by its current. When I see unread blogs, tweets, or Facebook posts, my brain treats them like things on my to-do list, and reading them is like checking them off, which becomes addictive.  I am not ready to give up social media altogether - not only do I use it for work, but I learn a lot from the blogs and tweets I read, and I depend on Facebook to keep up with people I love who live far from me.  I know I want to unplug and stay offline on my Sabbath, but what other practices do you guys suggest to keep healthy daily checks and balances on social media?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Lesbian & the Virgin Mary

Today I have a guest post over at Candice Czubernat's blog...

"Two years ago, I was co-pastoring a little church in inner-city Vancouver. That Advent season, my co-pastor was leading us in imaginative storytelling: we’d take turns choosing a person from the Christmas narrative and telling the story from that character’s viewpoint. I enjoyed listening to other people’s reflections, but whenever I tried to decide which character from the story I could best identify with, I lost focus.

My brain kept getting snagged on the fact that this would be my last closeted Christmas.

Let me back up a bit. Seven years earlier, I had moved to Vancouver to study theology at an evangelical grad school. Although I had hoped seminary would provide a pool of potential Christian husbands, I ended up slowly falling in love with my female roommate and classmate, Danice, who had introduced me to the ocean, good music, and good beer, and who had also fallen in love with me. This unexpected turn of events shed unavoidable light on our lifelong attraction to women, which, like good Evangelicals, we’d both semi-successfully repressed.

Eventually we completed our MDiv degrees and found jobs in two Baptist churches, all the while living together as mostly-closeted, celibate roommates. I spent my free time devouring every book I could get my hands on about homosexuality and faith. Discovering good hermeneutical points in both the affirming and non-affirming camps, I doubted whether I’d ever land conclusively on either side of the fence.

After seven years of this uncomfortable fence-sitting, a couple of things were becoming clear. Our ministry was suffering because we didn’t feel free to be authentically ourselves. Our relationship was suffering because we were in constant flux over how to ethically express our love. Despite our lack of theological certainty, it was time to make a decision.

As we waited and prayed about whether to pursue marriage, our sense of peace and confidence in God’s blessing was strengthened. We agreed to spend the following year coming out, culminating in an announcement to our congregations, with full knowledge that our intent to marry would mean the loss of these pastoral roles.

There I sat in our circle of plastic church chairs, quite distracted by this imminent and ominous “year of coming out,” surrounded by beautiful people who would sadly no longer be my congregants come next Christmas.

In that moment, I did not expect to be drawn to Mary.

Honestly, up until that point in my life, Mary had been very domesticated. Sure, she got some airtime around Christmas for the Magnificat and the whole “birth of Christ” thing, but most often Protestants kept Mary safely tucked away, lest our interest in her reach unhealthy (read: Catholic) levels. Plus, I was coming out as a lesbian, one without a noticeably ticking maternal clock, so it seemed even less likely that I’d be drawn to this consummate heterosexual wife and mother.

But the more I thought about Mary and her ro
le in the plot, the more I found links between our lives..."

Click here to go read the rest at Candice's page!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The (Un)expected journey - my reflections on our New Direction Epic Road Trip

I've got another new post on my work blog (I promise I'll come back and write here too one day!).  Here's the start, and you can head over to the New Direction site to read the rest...

It’s been two and a half weeks since our staff returned to Toronto, and I’m still sitting here, trying to make sense of what happened during the three weeks of our Epic Road Trip across western Canada. At risk of stating the obvious, the trek, for me, was a mix of the expected and the unexpected.

I expected to bond with my co-workers, and I did. We enjoyed so many shared experiences: the hotels (good and bad), the restaurants (good and bad), listening to the addictive Serial podcast (always good) as well as Danice’s highly educational musical playlists – overviews of music through the decades – and of course, lots and lots of Tim Horton’s, the one blessed constant across the many miles and time zones of Canada. There were many “firsts” for us – Danice got her first speeding ticket, Wes tasted his first Vancouver sushi, and for the first time, I held up traffic while driving off a docked ferry because I couldn’t figure out how to disengage the parking brake. Among other things, I learned that Wes always finishes eating one dish on his plate before moving on to another (leaving his tomatoes uneaten), and that Wendy observes “licorice-o-clock” almost daily, at least on road trips, though the actual hour varies.

What I didn’t expect was how well our team members would perform under pressure...

Read the rest over at the New Direction blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Coming out on Thanksgiving

Hey everyone,

I just wrote a blog post for my work blog.  Don't worry, I'll still post here, too, but most of my sexuality-related material will likely be reserved for New Direction.  Here's the first few paragraphs, to get you hooked...


It happened again. I was watching an episode of the excellent new TV series “Transparent,” and Jeffrey Tambor’s character Maura was preparing to come out as a trans woman to her adult son, Josh. Maura stood on her balcony and watched Josh’s car pull up, and as she stepped back, anxiously considering what his reaction might be to seeing his dad as a woman for the first time, I suddenly noticed my own body reacting. My heart was pounding intensely. My palms glistened with sweat.
I remember the same thing happening this past Valentine’s Day when actress Ellen Page chose to tell the world she was gay near the end of her eight-minute speech at the Human Rights Campaign conference. By the time I watched it on YouTube, I had already heard she would be coming out during the speech, so I knew the reason for the tremor in her voice, the trembling in her hand, and the awkward posture of this usually composed and confident actress. And I felt it. For those agonizing few minutes, it was my quivering voice reading the words on the prompter, bringing me ever closer to that life-changing paragraph: “I am here… because I am gay.” And the elation and relief on her face after the audience gave her a standing ovation – those belonged to me, too.
I don’t know if I’m the only one who re-experiences the roller coaster of emotions of my own coming out every time I see someone new come out. Thankfully, my coming out experience was mainly positive, so the memories that are triggered, though stressful, are not traumatic. I grieve with my friends who cannot say the same. But even LGBTQ+ people who endured rejection when coming out can usually also point to some friends who offered them acceptance and unconditional love in that scary moment, and ended up becoming their lifelines during the rest of the coming out process.
I recently read Ben Moberg’s moving blog post reminiscing on his own coming out journey, in which he quotes some coming out advice from a friend of his: “Cherish these moments. You’ll want to hold them later on.”
One of my most cherished coming out moments happened during the Thanksgiving season...

Okay, now read the rest over at!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Friendships with People who Wouldn't Attend my Gay Wedding... and our New Jobs!

When we first started mailing out invitations to our (gay) wedding, Danice and I braced ourselves for some invitees to tell us they could not attend because they did not support our marriage.

There weren't many, but of the few who declined for this reason, some were close friends and family members.  We understood their reasons for not coming, but we still missed them that day and grieved their absence.

Not long ago, I had breakfast with one of these friends.

It wasn't the first time I'd seen her since she'd emailed me to inform me she wouldn't be attending my wedding.  Although the email really disappointed me, I didn't have the guts to bring it up in person with her.  It was easier on my pride to pretend it hadn't really affected me.  Besides, the last thing I wanted to do was to guilt her into coming. I closed myself off to her, and as a result, despite her continued efforts to reach out to me, all our interactions had felt forced and surface-level.

My stomach was in knots as I waited at Cafe Deux Soleils for her to show up, dreading another awkward conversation.  I wanted to be honest about the way her choice had affected me, but I had no idea how to bring it up, no script prepared in my head, and no clue how defensively she would respond.

For over an hour, we talked about everything except my very recent wedding and my new wife.  Our conversation was pleasant enough, covering work, travel, and mutual friends, but there was an elephant in the room, and we were stumbling around trying to avoid it.  I halfheartedly watched for a wedding-related conversational on-ramp to guide us into the topic of her absence, but in my pride and self-pity, I wanted her to bring it up; I wanted her be the one to notice I was distant and wounded.

Finally, she asked, "How can I be praying for you and supporting you right now?"

I bristled at the question, and knew immediately that I couldn't pretend anymore.  I couldn't think of a way to answer that wouldn't be tinged with bitterness.  I took this as the final push toward vulnerability: "I have no idea how to answer that question, because there is so much distance between us now.  I'm hurt that you didn't come to my wedding.  I can guess where you're at theologically, and I think I understand why you would find it hard to be there, but it still hurt me.  You were my closest friend who made that choice for reasons of conscience."

There, I thought.  No going back now.

Tears rose immediately in her eyes.  She thanked me for my honesty, for my courage in confronting her.  She said she was deeply sorry she had hurt me.  I believed her, surprised at how genuinely conflicted she seemed.  She told me she didn't know she meant that much to me, especially since I had waited so long to come out to her.  Despite deciding not to come, she had eagerly looked for pictures of my wedding on her Facebook feed, trying to connect as best she could on this important day in my life. She wept all the more as she tried to communicate her hope that her choice hadn't doomed our friendship, or her friendship with others who affirmed my marriage.

I melted as I watched the tears roll down her face.  I knew then that she had already been punished enough, and that she, too, had felt pain through this experience.  I saw that my decision to come out to her much later than most others in our circle of friends, though justifiable,* had already eroded trust and closeness between us over a year ago.  I understood that her decision not to attend my wedding had brought distance not only between her and me, but also between her and many other mutual friends who were critical of her absence.

I was struck again with the fact that I can't just lump everyone who disagrees with me into one category of people who are "against" me, whom I can easily stereotype and dismiss.  It was clear in that moment that this friend was truly "for" me.  Her love for me was palpable - not the so-called love that patronizes and talks theology at me, but the love that was written in pain all over her face, the love that mourns when I mourn and struggles to rejoice when I rejoice, even when that rejoicing is for a reason she can't affirm.  I knew her heart was with me, even though she couldn't quite reconcile her conscience with her heart.

I forgave her.  I assured her that I didn't want to cut off my friendship with her, but that I also knew it wouldn't be the same between us - anything related to my marriage would be potentially complicated to talk about now. She agreed, and we both sat in that sad realization for a while.  By the end of our breakfast, though, we both expressed hope that by continuing our friendship, we would both learn and be changed for the better.  "How can I ever change unless I'm in relationship with you?" she asked.

What I didn't realize is how quickly that conversation would change me.  I had meetings and chaplaincy sessions scheduled right after that breakfast, and I had worried I'd be too emotionally drained from this conversation to have any capacity to listen to other people's problems.  Instead, I found that forgiving my friend had inexplicably opened up new wells of patience and compassion in me.  As I talked with other hurting people that day, I felt myself giving them the benefit of the doubt, seeing their best selves, trying harder to understand.  I had relentless energy to empathize with them.

I am freshly convinced of my need to be in real-life-relationship with people with whom I vehemently disagree.**  Sure, I need some friends who I can count on to agree with me and back me up.  But in this world of polarized online debates, caricatured straw-man foes, and stinging anonymous comments, I also need risky breakfasts with friends who think I'm wrong about stuff, friends who will most certainly hurt me, and with whom I can find healing.  We need the opportunity to tangibly love one another, to see the world through each other's eyes, to challenge each other's thinking and feel each other's feelings.  We need this as people seeking to follow Christ.  Heck, we need this simply as humans coexisting on one planet, trying to keep ourselves from destroying one another.

Danice and I with our new co-workers at New Direction, Wes and Wendy
Most of you know that Danice and I are moving to Toronto in a couple weeks to take jobs with New Direction ministries.  New Direction is all about nurturing safe spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to seek Christ, and about helping Christians who disagree on this topic find more gracious and hospitable ways of living and talking together.  Much of our work will involve the risky, bridge-building kind of relating that I've written about above.  I feel a mix of fear and excitement, knowing what lies ahead for us in this work: the painful but rewarding exercise of enemy-love and neighbor-love.

Some of you (like my aforementioned friend) have asked about how to support us as we take on these new roles.  We're grateful that New Direction had already started fundraising for our positions before we even accepted their offer.  If you'd like to give toward our work at New Direction, you can sign up to donate online here.  You can designate your gifts to the "Vibrant Community" campaign if you'd like to directly support Danice and me, but all donations to the organization are beneficial!

And please pray for us, especially as we say lots of teary goodbyes and head out across the country in a U-Haul van to start this new adventure together.


* I don't think any LGBT person should feel pressured to come out to someone before they're ready, especially if there is good chance of rejection due to differing theology.  But it's also a reality that people feel crappy when they find out you waited longer with them than with others to reveal this deep part of yourself.  It's unavoidable, non-culpable pain, but pain nonetheless, and trust often takes time to rebuild.

** Sometimes we have to wait for these opportunities - not everyone is in a good space for bridge-building friendships.  For example, it would have been nearly impossible to connect with my friend if she had been actively praying for my marriage to dissolve, or if I had refused to even talk to her until she changed her views about my marriage.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On being gay married.

So we're married now.
Gay married.

Sometimes I look down at my ring and I can't believe it really happened, that we get to call each other "wives" for real.  But about 200 people will attest that it did happen, people who traveled from such faraway lands as Prince Rupert and Washington, DC and Alabama to witness our vows, friends and family who poured time and energy into making that day meaningful for us.  Their tangible love for us was almost as overwhelming as our love for one another.

(For more details about that incredible night, check out Jane's blog- she was our officiant.)

Waiting to come out of the closet and into the wedding!
I am fully aware of how cliche it is to say this: since getting married, nothing has changed, and everything has changed.

We still live together, as we have for nine years, though now it's just the two of us.  We are still our same ridiculous selves with each other.  I still make her coffee in the morning.  She still makes playlists for me.  We laugh and argue and cook together.

But something is different. (And it's not just the fact that we get to have sex now, which, let's be honest, is where our minds tend to go after Christians get married.)

It's hard to describe the difference, but I feel like trying to do so here.

We're more settled now.  More secure.  More... solid.

*begin nerdy statement* 

You know when those people on Star Trek are in the middle of getting beamed down to a planet, or back up to the ship?  It's like Danice and I have been on those transporter pads, but we've been on them for years, years in that grainy, half-assembled state, fuzzy on the edges, not sure how our pieces will come together, or whether some kind of malfunction will result in total disintegration.  It's rather exhausting.

Getting married is like finally materializing.  Now we can step off those circles and get down to business.  Boldly go where no man has gone before, and what not.
*end nerdy statement*

Let me try a less nerdy image... By making those vows to one another, Danice and I have, in the words of my wise little sister Rachel, "closed the back door to our relationship."  There is no leaving this home we have made in one another.  There is no sneaking out in the middle of the night after a shouting match.  We get to settle into each other, because we are held together, held accountable, held responsible for one another.

This is no trivial thing.  Already I have felt the vows we made weigh heavily on me, and I am sure those words will press down on us and demand even more from us as we face challenges together.  Words like "fail" and "humble myself" and "lay down" and "accept help" and especially "forgive."

But I have been surprised to also find so much lightness, so much openness since speaking these vows.  I figure that when you make a decision, or a vow, it both creates limits and removes limits.  You are cut off from all other options you once had, but you are also set free to more fully pursue the option you've chosen.  And now that I've chosen Danice for life, and she me, we don't have to hold anything back anymore.  For sure, love is still a risk - we can still hurt each other more deeply than anyone else could - but we choose to take the risk.  After nine years of waiting with self-imposed limits to our love, this new-found freedom is sweet.

If you're not already sick of all this talk of love, below I've posted the vows we somehow managed to get through, though Danice kept herself together better than I did.  We cobbled them together from all sorts of ideas and sources.  Hold me to them, will you?


For nine years I have known you,
and I love what I know of you,
but there is so much about you I have yet to learn.
With hope and faith, I take this next step with you into the unknown.
Before God and these friends and family
I make these vows...

I will love you above all others.
I will bear witness to your life.
I will take care of you.
I will lay down my ego and listen to you.
I will humble myself to accept your help.
I will dance with you in good times;
I will cry with you in hard times.
I will keep you sane and I will keep you crazy.

When I fail and break my promises, I will eventually admit it and ask for forgiveness.
When you fail and break your promises, I will forgive you.

Though the world will change and we will change, I will stay with you.
God-willing, I will grow old with you and watch every one of your hairs turn silver.
(Danice said "white" instead of "silver," because evidently redheads go straight to white.)  

I do not and cannot ever deserve you,
but I gratefully accept you as a gift from God.
I choose to love you, today and every day,
for as long as we both live.

Monday, April 28, 2014

This week

In five days, I will marry Danice Carlson.

This is really rather astonishing to me, and it may be to some of you, too. 

My blog has not been a good chronicle of my relationship with Danice, though some may have noted her frequent presence in my writing between the years of 2005-2008, and her conspicuous absence from my writing between 2008-2013, which tells a kind of story in itself.

For years I was afraid of writing too much about Danice or talking too much about Danice.  I would feel the urge to write about some experience we'd shared or discussion we'd had, and then I'd decide to write about the topic as a depersonalized "issue" instead.  I would start talking to a friend about something that related to Danice, and I would censor myself, calling her "one of my roommates" instead of using her name.  

I didn't want to draw attention to a relationship that I couldn't explain, or be asked to answer questions to which I didn't yet know the answers.

When Danice and I got engaged, my friend Cara gave us one of the most meaningful gifts I've ever received: a physical reminder of the early stages of my relationship with Danice.  Cara is an artist, and in quiet moments she likes to sketch people.  One night she drew us.  It must have been 2007 or 2008 because we were in FunUgly, our first house as roommates.  We are lying on the couch, legs in opposite directions, facing each other, and my head is on Danice's lap.  We look very comfortable together.

I have vivid memories of that evening.  Though I appeared comfortable, inside I was a mess.  I worried about whether we should have let ourselves get comfortable being so physically close.  I agonized over exactly which expressions of intimacy and love were socially permissible for female friends.  I worried that we no longer fit the definition of "friends," and didn't want to think about what that meant.  More than anything, I worried about what Cara was thinking.  I worried that other people might flip through her sketchbook and see her drawing of us, and wondered what they would say about us behind our backs.  Fear ruled my life.

We framed that sketch and put it on the wall of our new home together.  When I look at it, I am overwhelmed with the beauty of our early years together, as fear-riddled as they were.  I look at it, and I am instantly grateful for the way our love, though often a tentative love, a nervous and tangled love, has nonetheless been bold and tenacious enough to withstand a nine-year battle against our fear.

That fear still crops up every once in a while, and I expect that over the course of our lives together, it will show up regularly for a rematch.

Just a few nights ago, Danice and I went to a large annual fundraising dinner for a non-profit, an event that functions as a reunion for much of the churchgoing population of Vancouver.  We've attended several years in a row, but this year, for the first time, we came in holding hands.  As we walked into a sea of Christians, some of whom I recognized, my heart pounded.  I was so aware of my hand that I felt like one giant gay hand on display, moving through a seemingly endless conference centre foyer.  I was on high alert for any sign from Danice that we should drop hands - any change in pressure between us, or rise in hand temperature - but she seemed entirely unfazed.  So I gritted my teeth and dug down deep, past the fear, until I found my inexhaustible pride in our love, which was strong and ready for the fight.  We had a wonderful evening.

This wedding week is so full of last-minute things to do, details to consider, and beautiful people from out of town I want to hang out with, and I know it could very easily slip right by me.  I want to notice and give thanks for every bit of it, but realistically, I won't have the emotional stamina to process all of it in the moment.

So I want to state from the outset what could seem very obvious, but something of which I will need constant reminding: this week is a celebration of love - the Love that God is.

It's about Love frustratingly creating mystery in my life where there was only certainty, and then extending hope where there was only impossibility.

It's about Love challenging the way I understand my faith, read my Bible, and treat my fellow human beings, over and over again, even when I think I've got it.

It's about Love giving me the courage to do what I never thought I could, without any of the worries (of committing unforgivable sins and being excluded from the kingdom) that I once assumed I'd be wracked with in a week like this.

It's even about Love beginning to heal our hurt toward church.  Love waiting with us as we grieve that there are people we love whose consciences will not permit them to attend our wedding.  Love rejoicing over anyone who loves us enough to wrestle hard with what they think about this, no matter where they land.

It's about the Love embodied in our friends who have been cheering for Love all along, and who more recently have been throwing us showers, planning our wedding, helping us financially, moving our boxes, showing up when we need them, and making sure we're not losing our minds.

It's about Love freeing us to be in love with each other, to lay on the couch together, to hold hands, to take care of each other and grow old together.

This week is about Love conquering fear in our lives.