Friday, February 24, 2012

Here we go

I've always been ambivalent about blogging. I should probably just go ahead and put that out there. I love the idea of reading people's blogs, but I've never been really sure about how I feel about the idea of my blog. This could be for a number of reasons. First, well, what would I have to say that people would actually want to read? Second, growing up queer in East Texas, I learned at some point to keep my cards close to my chest, not to reveal too much about myself to anyone, lest I slip up and unintentionally out myself. Secrecy became for me a means of self-preservation, and it served me well. A public blog in many ways goes completely against this need to keep myself from saying something that would be better left unsaid.

In the last month or so, though, I've come up with some responses to these reasons for not writing. First, well, if no one wants to read it, no one has to read it. Seems a bit obvious, but I'm not always the quickest to come to realizations such as these. My response to the second point, however, is not so simple. In fact, it's what finally got me to start writing, and in many ways it's the heart of this blog. I'll get to it, but need to give some background info first...

Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to intern with an organization that serves sexual minority youth. Teenagers have the opportunity to meet other youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning), and to get to know adults who are either sexual minorities themselves or straight allies. My role there is as a "seminary intern," which has been kind of an experiment, as I'm the first one they've had. They have Masters of Social Work students every year, but the seminary thing is new. My time working with these youth has been one of the most formative experiences I've had in my life. Hands down. Time and again I find myself inspired by their ability to recognize and articulate things they see in the world around them, in a world that has not been kind to them. I've seen the power of a place where people can let their guard down and build community with other people whose experiences of alienation relate to their own.

My experience at the organization has also sensitized me to the atrocities that are committed against other youth like those I know. Last fall, for instance, I read the story of a transgender teenager from Detroit who was brutally murdered and dismembered; her mother had to come in and had only a torso to identify her child. Then, a few weeks ago, I read this article in Rolling Stone Magazine, about a school district whose intentional silence on matters related to all things LGBTQ led to a suicide epidemic, with nine students taking their own lives in a span of less than two years. For the people leading the charge on the matter, any form of tolerance for sexual minorities is a means of promoting homosexuality. Discussing the matter, they felt, would lead kids to try out sexual behavior and turn straight kids gay. It will likely come as no surprise that these people are led by their religious convictions. After reading the article, I realized that I could no longer in good conscience remain in the church and stay silent. For too long now the assumption that in order to be a Christian one must be socially conservative and adhere to a strictly defined socio-political agenda has prevailed. For too long the church has burned it into people who fall outside of a rigidly-defined norm that they are less than, that they aren't beloved children of God. As a lesbian, socially progressive Christian, my hope with this blog is to offer a counter voice to those in the church whose claim on moral authority often comes down like a boot on the necks of those who disagree with them.

The inspiration for the name of the blog came from a few different sources. The first is Ezekiel 37:1-14:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of theLord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the LordGod: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’

I've had this text swimming around in my head a lot lately, and I think about that sense of hopelessness that is conveyed in the Valley of Dry Bones. It is so dry that not even a fly buzzing around could find a bite to eat. I think about the people I know who have been disinherited by churches that clung so tightly to an interpretation of how God works in the world that they felt justified in expelling people from their spiritual home. I think about the church as a whole that seems to be dying under the weight of arguments about who's in and who's out. This passage is a reminder that we cannot hope to bring anything back to life without the Spirit of God. This means we have to allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to the movement of the Spirit; we have to be willing to acknowledge where we have caused harm, and to engage in honest dialogue with one another (even when it is difficult).

Another inspiration for the blog title comes from a poem by Andrea Gibson called "The Madness Vase"

The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables.

Said if I could get down thirteen turnips a day

I would be grounded, rooted.

Said my head would not keep flying away

to where the darkness lives.

The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight.

Said for twenty dollars she’d tell me what to do.

I handed her the twenty. She said, “Stop worrying, darling.

You will find a good man soon.”

The first psycho therapist told me to spend

three hours each day sitting in a dark closet

with my eyes closed and ears plugged.

I tried it once but couldn’t stop thinking

about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet.

The yogi told me to stretch everything but the truth.

Said to focus on the out breath. Said everyone finds happiness

when they care more about what they give

than what they get.

The pharmacist said, “Lexapro, Lamicatl, Lithium, Xanax.”

The doctor said an anti-psychotic might help me

forget what the trauma said.

The trauma said, “Don’t write these poems.

Nobody wants to hear you cry

about the grief inside your bones.”

But my bones said, “Tyler Clementi jumped

from the George Washington Bridge

into the Hudson River convinced

he was entirely alone.”

My bones said, “Write the poems.”

Back to the second reason for my ambivalence about blogging: I've always been a bit frightened by the idea of sharing my story in an open forum. However, I've had the privilege over the last few years to study with Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, who has convinced me and a number of other students that our stories are worth telling. In telling our stories, even painful stories, and in hearing those of other people who have been knocked around, we remember that we are not alone.

We are not alone.

In her book Gathering Those Driven Away, theoethicist Wendy Farley states that she sometimes feels she "cannot bear for Holy Scripture to be despoiled by those who would deceive us about the great beauty we offer the body of Christ. I refuse to allow 'the tradition' to degenerate into a cultural conservatism forgetful of the great cloud of witnesses that sing of the tenderness of incarnate love" (p 15). As I begin this journey of...whatever it is, I resonate with this quote. We who desire to counter the voices of hatred and oppression that hide behind doctrine and tradition are these bones. We have been thrown together, clattering as we were tossed out. And yet, in the pain of being abandoned or forced out of faith communities, we found each other. The clattering of bones being tossed out instead becomes a clattering of bones coming together and recognizing that we have company in this mass of those who have been driven away. Clattering like this is hard to keep quiet; it demands to be heard and recognized. Clattering like this refuses to believe that we are not all worthy of love, dignity, and safety in our homes, schools, at work, and in our places of worship. It is my hope that clattering like this is contagious.

Any one wanna make some noise?


  1. I say clatter on, sister. I love your thinking... I just received a quote from the Layman attributed to John Ortburg who said this break with the PCUSA was so that people would not go to hell (my assumption is that he thinks we who remain in the PCUSA are going to hell). Have you seen that conversation going on? I hope you have a chance during these 40 days to do some reflection on what he is saying ... It seems to tie in with this first reflection. Really, because I'm a progressive Jesus-follower I am going to hell?

    1. I've kind of seen the conversation going on, but it's been more peripheral, hearing about it from other folks. I think I need to chew on it for a while... Ugh...

  2. Jess, there is so much here; I will be with it and come back to it and perhaps eventually have a comment. Thank you!

    Meanwhile, Nikki wants to know where all the heads are.

  3. YES. Your voice, your thoughts, give me hope and convict me to be strong. Thanks for this.

  4. Wow--thank you, Jess! This was incredibly inspiring and fills me with hope and energy...