I Have Questions

I am a Christian, raised by two Christian parents in a (mostly white) protestant church. I attended a Christian school from kindergarten until ninth grade, and I heard all the rumors that public education was a cesspool of sex, drugs, f-words, alcohol and demonic rituals. Fine, I embellished on the last one—but you get the idea.

Now let the record show that I have both gratitude and respect for the faith that my parents instilled in me. It continues to hold true all these years later, in fact.

I believe and identify with Jesus the Messiah as both my personal savior and model for existence. His life on earth was a master class in how to treat humans with compassion, justice, honesty, acceptance, kindness, inclusion, grace, equity and unconditional love.

His passion for the outcast, broken, powerless and marginalized has no rival in history. His sacrifice on a hill outside of Jerusalem transformed the world forever, and His transformation inside my own soul has been nothing short of miraculous.

I love Jesus—as the author Glennon Doyle remarks, “I worship the guy.” But I do have  questions for the American church that proclaims to represent Him. Yeah, I know—it’s an institution maintained by humans and, therefore, messy and flawed. That’s cool because I too am messy and flawed, so it’s a community where I belong.

But I also believe this is part of the fundamental issue. I belong in the church since people like me tend to belong everywhere. I am white, heterosexual, middle class and raised in a first-world nation.

Sure, I’m a female which does present some challenges, but as a member of the dominant culture, my life comes with privilege—which I did not ask for, did not realize and did not earn. This privilege just is, and that’s not how Jesus operates.

He is the most zealous advocate this world has ever known. Before there was Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, there was Jesus of Nazareth healing the disabled, befriending the prostitutes, making time for the children, and seeking out the oppressed.

As a man of color, born into an overthrown society, with no permanent residence or source of income, and hated by the religious elite, Jesus understands injustice. He surrounds Himself with anyone that culture has marked “the least of these.” He is not a colonizer. He is not a western citizen. He is not even white.

So how did the teachings of Jesus come to be associated with the status quo of mainstream Caucasian America?

When did it become Christian dogma to remain silent toward racism and complicit toward the patriarchy?

Who determined that some groups of sinners are welcome in the church, but others are irredeemable and toxic to the establishment?

If Jesus spent His whole ministry on the frontlines of activism, then why does the church often turn a blind eye to this work of justice He started 2,000 years ago?

What if—instead of weaponizing scripture like the Pharisees who enforced the law in Jesus’ time—Christians saw each interaction and encounter as a chance to lead with the same grace our Messiah has offered us? It should not be a revelation. It should be as instinctual as breathing.

In a cynical, dark and fallen universe, the church was built to send a message of radical, supernatural, countercultural hope. It was never meant to shame or exclude.

So I have questions for today’s evangelical institution. And not because I’m here to judge or condemn it.

Rather, because I love the church and want each human on this planet—from the Guatemalan refugee to the homeless teen on Skid Row—to realize they belong in the family of Jesus…

  • Why are sins measured on a legalist and arbitrary spectrum? I sin in the areas of addiction, deception, retaliation and self-absorption, just to name a few of the countless ways I fall short on the daily. But none of my sins have stigmatized me from acceptance in the church—so how am I above a person who’s transgender or someone who has thoughts of suicide on the moral hierarchy? Spoiler alert: I’m not. My issues are just easier to dismiss and hide.
  • What is so threatening about a woman on the platform? Some of the most influential teachers, leaders, mentors and pastors in my life are women. They have discipled me, held me accountable, spoke truth over me and showed me that freedom in Christ is real. Many of these women are just as qualified to preach as their male counterparts—sometimes more so—but too often, gender conventions subdue the calling and purpose on their lives.
  • Where is the racial diversity in church leadership? I am a firm believer that cultures of inclusion start from the top-down—the most effective way to create safety for people of diverse racial backgrounds is to ensure they are represented in the church leadership. Who is on the board of trustees? Who is at the table making decisions? Who is onstage to lead worship, deliver announcements or even preach on Sunday? Jesus exists for all creeds and colors, so it stands to reason, His church should reflect this.
  • Why are foreign missions prioritized over local communities? I would jump at the chance to visit countries like Nepal, Ecuador and Uganda, but as a traveler on my own dime—not as a short-term missions worker. The more research I unearth on this topic, the more I learn how mission trips (regardless of positive intentions) can harm a nation’s infrastructure. For example, if you construct a well in a Kenyan village but don’t teach the residents how to maintain it, what happens if a pipe bursts or water leaks? Instead of empowering the community, this forces a dependence on westerners. So before sending a team to another continent, how can the local church serve the disenfranchised right in its own backyard?
  • When did comfort supersede both justice and mercy? I look at some of the modern church services that I either attend or catch a snapshot of on Instagram, and I wonder, Is this a production to entertain the audience or an invitation to connect with Jesus? In a society where mega-church pastors turn into celebrities and worship music is “enhanced” by strobe lights, Christians must actively resist the urge to form insider clubs or echo chambers that keep them sheltered from—and naive to—the abuse of power around them.

Give Me Them All

Give me the wanderers, artists and vagabond souls.

The beatniks and dreamers yearning to breathe free.

The gypsies, misfits and children of earth.

The believers in truth, the lovers of hope.

The feelers and teachers, the visionaries and prophets.

The nature dwellers and story tellers.

The flower crowned hippies who dance in the moonlight.

The makers of poetry, music and wild ideas.

The ones called different with their bent, crooked lines.

Give me the humans who notice beauty in madness.

And imagine a world full of kindness.

Give me them all, for they are welcome in my heart.

Blessed (and Cursed) with Being Loyal

loyalty

I’m not a huge fan of rappers, but Kendrick Lamar and I can relate in one intrinsic area: We both have loyalty inside our DNA. I don’t make this claim out of self-righteous pride or superiority—it’s not even an attribute I would have chosen for myself. It’s just a simple fact of my existence.

I’m like a wolf in that regard, crouched and ready to strike if a member of my pack needs vindication or protection. I will not hesitate to bleed in the defense of those I love because once they storm the barriers to earn my trust and secure my heart, I am on their side for a lifetime.

So if I decide you are worth my effort and investment, you don’t need to question whether I mean business. I am loyal to the core—sometimes to a fault. There are parts of this I’m grateful for because when I bond with other humans, it’s fierce and deep and real. I can’t do halfway.

But at times, I have to wrestle against the instinct to be loyal because there is such a condition as loving too hard. And never has that been more achingly transparent than here in the season I find myself now.

I left my wolfpack. Two weeks ago. Crammed my life into cardboard boxes, then followed the highway more than 2,000 miles West on dreams and fear and excitement and loss. As a result, I live in Arizona, or that is what my new address keeps telling me. This Florida girl swapped out her beach towels for hiking boots and the ocean for the desert.

And truly, it’s exhilarating. With mountains on all sides and cacti on each corner, my adventurer’s soul can breathe out here. But that loyal DNA—it remains in Bradenton, and therein lies my pain.

The younger version of me was cynical toward relationships and didn’t believe honest connections were possible. That stone-cold skeptic would be astonished to see me years later, in this moment, reeling over the distance from people who continue to hold my intense, relentless, obstinate loyalty. It’s a blessing and a curse, this zealous kind of love. It has no concept of release.

Can you imagine how much that pierces the heart and wears on the spirit? Maybe you can—I am not the first person to move across the country and feel the reverberations of a drastic, unfamiliar transition. I am not the only human being ever to romanticize the life she left behind, in all its chaos, imperfection and beauty.

This experience is not unique, but it’s mine nonetheless. So I will mourn those far-away friendships and grieve the miles between us. I will miss how they understand me. How they know the depths I have sunk to and the peaks I have climbed. How they can read my emotions with nothing but a look. I hope they sensed it when I tried to return the favor.

So I will be loyal to those memories and connections—for me, there is just no other option. But I will also choose to trust that loyalty is not in vain, and perhaps it can flourish in a brand new chapter too.

Undress.

dirty clothes

He said, “undress.” And then I did. He looked me over. And I went stiff.

He reached out a hand. And I glanced away. Eyes to the ceiling. Body frozen in space.

He touched me once. Discreetly at first. Then urgent, emphatic. With all my senses inert.

My brain was absent. My nerves aflame. I had no response. And I made no escape.

His fingers trailed. I watched their descent. This could not be real. Yet still my gut clenched.

He found just the place. That biological switch. Where my insides caught fire. And guilt came unhinged.

He finished his conquest. And I snatched my clothes. But his touch left its mark. Sharp and exposed.

Now I was tarnished. And no longer the same. Now I was weakened. And no longer safe.

If I could rewind the clock. Before all these regrets. I would yell, “no.” When he said, “undress.”

dear body…

in all our years together—two decades plus eight

i never said “thank you” for being constant and safe.

for this miraculous tangle of blood, skin and bone

this shelter for my heart, this home for my soul.

this flesh that can rupture, bruise and then heal

this lattice of imprints and imperfections revealed.

this face streaked with laughter and tears unabated

this frame that’s been tough yet frail and berated.

sometimes unsteady but always strong to endure

a bittersweet mural of both stories and scars.

body—you were resilient in spite of all my disdain

when i branded you a traitor, the root of my shame.

you are the warrior who fought to keep me alive

chest breathing, pulse beating and a will to survive.

i wanted to tame you and i ferociously tried

i ached just to separate, to denounce you as mine.

but you were a force, relentless, stormy and wild

you would not be conquered, outcast or exiled.

i made you the villain but no—you protect and defend

so for the first time: “thank you, my friend.”

 

 

An Elemental Manifesto

i am a seed anchored by the earth

i am a feather skimming the breeze

i am a vessel who dances on water

i am a spark awash in amber flames

my body is of the soil, my heart belongs to the sky

my vagabond spirit calls out to the rivers and seas

my russet brown eyes crackle with stardust and fire

my voice is tuned in to the rhythm of the wind

i am a creature of the elements

both above and below

outside the reaches of space

unclasped by the hands of time

fully human, shred of mystic

a piece of my soul in each world

but this terra which roots me

this ground that nourishes me

is not mine to call home

i was planted on earth, baptized in water

refined in fire, then unleashed on the cosmos

but my inheritance lies beyond the clouds

it’s there i am bound

there i am summoned

and there,

an elemental manifesto of heaven and nature combined,

i am destined to fly

 

Why Do You Write Like You’re Running Out of Time?

write like you're running out of time

Two mind-blowing, earth-shattering weeks ago, I joined the ranks of people who have officially seen Hamilton.

And yeah, it’s just as phenomenal as what you’ve heard. But enough #humblebrags. There is a point to this besides me needing an excuse to talk about its genius. Although I will take advantage of the opportunity. No shame in this girl’s musical theatre game.

I knew that I would be enthralled and obsessed and astounded and moved to sloppy tears. I was right, of course. The stage mesmerizes me in ways I can never explain. And that soundtrack will forever blare inside my brain. But one detail of Hamilton has stuck with me in particular—the sheer force of language, the depth and soul of words.

They’re like characters in the narrative. Breathing, pulsing, sweating, living just as the actors are. More than 20,000 words comprise the Hamilton manuscript, and a certain Alexander scrawls them into the art of revolution. What he creates with the flourish of a quill rouses the other Founding Fathers to pose my favorite question in the entire musical:  “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

I love it since I’ve been asking myself that same question for decades. So when I heard this turn-of-phrase chanted from the mouths of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr, my first thought was, “This could make a dope tattoo.” My second thought was, “Here’s my next blog post.” Because I relate to Alex—I too write like I’m running out of time.

I have always written from the moment I learned how. Since the time I grasped that letters form sentences which contrive stories which animate worlds. This became more than a desire or passion—it was a necessity.

Intrinsic as hunger. Insistent as oxygen. Writing for me is a matter of survival. And like my dude Alexander, I’m consumed with the notion that words can speak to life resistance and deliverance.

Words make poets and iconoclasts out of ordinary people. Those who resemble me, and those who don’t. Our contrasts are not important—words are the equalizers. Under responsible direction, words turn strangers into lovers, enemies into allies. Words mobilize warriors and actualize movements. Words raise a sigh into a clamor. Words inflame conviction. Words effect change.

Words are the product of human minds and tongues and hearts. And writing is the heart’s semantic. Traced with fingertips, fleshed out with ink. Alex understood that words can either be decisive or divisive, so wielding this power justly is a delicate mission to undertake.

But for some, there’s no option or alternative. They write because their souls demand it. Because each minute elapsed is one minute less to craft the message this world needs to hear.

One minute less to spawn a gender reform wildfire through a hashtag and a keyboard. One minute less to dismantle broken policies or biased ideologies with the stroke of a “publish” button. One minute less to scream out for children on the border, people of color on the margin, and females on the witness stand. One minute less to collude with other renegades who are done status quo-ing.

One minute less to exercise the sharpest artillery we humans possess—our voices and our pens. So I imagine that’s why Hamilton wrote like he was running out of time. Because otherwise, he would have been.

That’s why he wrote each second he was alive. If he was like me, Hamilton needed writing to survive.