Revelation upon Revelation

A Birthday Reflection

I know this is a week late, but, nonetheless, it appears. My Birthday revelation. 

There is no real coherence to this post; the only common ground is that over the past year I’ve learned a lot as I am wont to do. But, last year was hard. Very. Hard. I had revelation upon revelation about people: they aren’t always who they say they are. I know that this seems like quite the kindergarten thing to learn, but sometimes, even as “wise” adults…we must learn this lesson again. 

You see, there’s a longing I have: to fit in. I have never. I just don’t. I still don’t. And the irony is that I care but don’t care because I’m a 5 who idealizes belonging but then when I get it, I hate it. I guess here I say: lolz. I think sometimes I fear my own individuality. It’s quite fierce and not even I can wrestle it to submission. It’s an alligator, and I’m not one to wrestle alligators. I think this year I’ve learned through some very traumatic mediums: That I’m okay; that I’m enough. 

And I am enough. I know, a protestant priest preaching such drivel…but I believe this. I am content in me–trust me, this has been put to the test this past year…and even so: I am content. It took some great loss, some great trial, and some great self reflection: I am enough. I’m okay. Even if I have “original” sin, it doesn’t mean that I’m inherently “bad,” that all I do is crave wicked. I don’t. You don’t. It’s not a sin to be okay on your own, or to feel one inside of your own skin. That’s not “sin.” It’s not a sin to feel whole and entire in your flesh; it’s not a sin to like yourself. (By the way, there’s no real righteousness in consistently hating yourself or debasing yourself through your own self-criticism; you don’t get the gospel more than me because you think you’re shit. B-t-dubs, that narrative your listening to is not the gospel at work but your broken-ass script you use to keep yourself insulated from prospects of confession and new life.) You can like yourself, and you can like the idea of self-change without it becoming a self-righteous thing. Sin is better defined as that law you use to discern who is “in” and who is “out”; sin is better defined not as individuality but as a “bird” flipped to the rest of humanity–just me!. Sin is better defined as a hatred of self that devolves into a selfish self-non-awareness that steals from the rest of the community your very presence. To love yourself is not pride; to love yourself is an acknowledgement that the One who made you knew exactly what the One was doing. To think you are better than everyone else is bad; to love yourself is not to think that you are above everyone else but that you are worthy of the love that you have received and will receive and will give.  

But aside from that here are some of the things I’ve come to learn this past year:

  1. Everyone reveals themselves; you just have to wait. Doesn’t matter who they say they are, actions speak louder than words. I get tired of people lying to me and speaking crap to me and putting the table cloth of “encouragement” on top of it. Doesn’t matter. That shit stinks to high heaven. Substantiate your words or don’t; just, please, don’t waste them. Our world is so full of useless words, there should be a global call to all who care to use words that have meaning…meaning that incorporates their own being. I tell my students: substantiate your words with yourself. It’s why I like for them to use the first person singular pronoun…I think thisI feel that… If you put yourself behind your words you can’t hide from the attack that may come, and maybe you’ll think about what you say before you say it. What if we reclaimed words, used fewer, and let ourselves be in more of our words…   ….   …. what if?
  2. Speaking of words…Let others tell you who they are. This concept coincides with the first: everyone reveals themselves, and so we should let others tell us who they are rather than determining who they are especially when they protest that you have them wrong. One friendship that went very south was one where I could not speak for myself or convince the person that their perception of me was based on a few poorly developed ideas of me. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you have to yell and shout at deaf ears to be heard. That type of relationship is not a friendship of equals; that is a situation of some sort of domination. You know who you are–even at your worst–no one gets to tell you who you are…especially someone who has known you for only a few months. Experiencing this, I’ve become more adamant about holding back judgment about other people. Let them tell you who they are–even the hardest to get along with–everyone has a story. Think: Gabby Gabby from Toy Story 4. She seems so evil but she has a desire, a story that drives her: to be loved, to be some kid’s comfort. We could brush her off as evil; but she’s not. She has a story. But if we turn the movie off midway she remains evil…but if we let her tell her story…she resonates with us on a human level. I hope we all listen to others. (Also included here is anyone who needs to control you to make their world more calm…this is also a means to dominate and tell you who you are and determine who you should be.)
  3. People who love you aren’t stupid for loving you. I think we struggle with this sometimes…At least I know I do. I was bullied in middle-school. I was fat and ugly and there wasn’t one person there who wouldn’t let me forget it. Except for a small table of other “outsiders”. A table at the cafeteria where I found refuge but where I also found discontent. I found myself looking down on those who liked me because they weren’t the ones who were of status…what’s love if it can’t get you somewhere? What’s love if you do nothing but hate yourself? While I know now that I radically misconceived love, I find that I (we?) still struggle with those who love us. If we have that self-contempt that is so extolled in some theological circles, we will perpetually question those who love us…they’ll always be mistaken. But they’re not.  Now, bear with me: I’m a mom, I know unconditional love and I love…like LOVE my kids. I’d go to fist-a-cuffs over any one of them. There is unconditional love; I’ve felt it. But it’s hard to believe that anyone else would ever unconditionally love us that doesn’t *have to*. But there are people like that who also do not share the same or similar genetic code as you do. There are people who love you just because and do not have to. I won’t name mine because they should know who they are (if not, text me, I’ll send flowers or chocolates….) Don’t forsake these people who love you just because; don’t forsake them just because you don’t love yourself. Let these people tell you a different love-story with you. I guarantee that love-story is better than your hate-story. I cannot guarantee that that story will be a happy ending…but that right now that love is real…don’t let it go. 
  4. and last…Don’t hide your story. I’m famous for this. Well…this sounds hypocritical after an exhortation to be yourself, to let others tell you about themselves, to substantiate your words, and to receive love as is… I promise that I substantiate my words to the best of my ability, that I try to love those who love me and let them love me in return, and that I am myself. But there are somethings or (rathter) something that I still wrestle with: anger over years lost. I’m writing this portion because I think it’s important to my story and because I think I’m not alone. I’ve had years stolen from me; and I hate it. I want those 7 years back more than anything. 7 years of catastrophic self-destruction. I was so angry; I was so lost. I hated me and the world for nearly a decade. I wanted to self-destruct, to implode, to cease to exist.  I wanted to go supernova leaving only a destructive black hole in my wake. My anger coursed through my veins and around me. I was destruction. Everything I touched was dirt and not gold. I hated myself in a visceral way for nearly a decade. And then Christ. And then I encountered God in Christ by the Spirit in the event of faith and I was yanked out of my self-de-struction and oriented toward the world in others-con-struction. But there is still part of me that wants those 7 years back. Those 7 years of anger and self-destruction. I feel that I’ve lost those 7 years. But then recently I realized…those 7 years (and the ones preceding that time) are the reason I am who I am. I know…I know pain; I know turmoil; I know (deeply) existential crisis that brings you the brink; I know darkness; I know trouble; I know that surge of guilt and resentment that courses through your veins where you think you won’t survive before it moves from the warmth of you inner elbow to the pulse of your ankle. I know. And while I wrestle with my age in light of this loss, I realize…that I am who I am because of it. So I cannot resent it fully. I can’t hat it fully because I’d never change who I am, I’d never change my story, I’d never change the fact that I can sit in the deep, deep darkness and those “lost years” are part of my story. Not many of us can say that…but I can. I can sit with you…I promise. I’ve a decade of pain so deep that allows me to be with you not matter what. I’m here with you, in the darkness, no matter what; I mean that with all my person; and I have no problem showing you. Just ask….

So I say this to conclude: I’m 44 and unashamed after many years of feeling regret for having “lost” those years. I’m 44 and don’t want those 7 years back because they’ve deeply formed me. I’m 44 and a whole person, content with herself and who she is now. In my 20s, I never thought I’d make it this far; I’m proud that I have. I’m here, I’m present, I’m active, and I’m not going away anytime soon. And I just don’t quit. #ThatsAPromise #ThatsAThreat

These are my birthday reflections. And to reflect on a question from last year: Am I happy with who and where I am? I have to echo last year’s response: Yes. I am very happy with who I am and where I am. 100%, yes.

Interruptions as Invitations into Life

Sancta Colloquia episode 107 ft. Susan Vincent

In this episode of Sancta Colloquia, I had the honor of listening to Susan Vincent (@susanv) tell me her story. All of our stories are rather remarkable and the remarkable aspect of Susan’s story (for me) was that she was raised in an evangelical, conservative, charismatic environment, home-schooled by evangelical academics. And here she is now working to defend the voiceless, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised, working to dismantle systems of injustice and systemic oppression. I believe the Lord works in mysterious ways and Susan’s story encourages that belief: out of a conservative evangelical environment is born a woman who asks the important questions and thinks critically about her faith and how faith and life and social and political ethics work together. Susan explains in beautiful terms that the events that challenge and interrupt us and our status-quo are better conceived as invitations to experience God and others anew, to experience life anew. Rather than defensive reactions and clinging dogmatically to things as we once knew them, we should ask, “Can I make my response one of curiosity?” Essentially, according to Susan, when events encounter us that challenge and interrupt our way of seeing things, we are encouraged to take up the invitation to open ourselves and broaden our conceptions. I don’t know about you, but this is death into new life; and I’m all about dying to the old and finding life in the new. And not once but daily. I am grateful to Susan for her willingness to sit with me and chat on a Saturday afternoon. I learned so much from her and am very excited to share this sacred conversation with you. To quote Susan, “Faith allows us to open ourselves to the unknown.” Damn straight it does.

And, as a heads up, I took copious notes as she was talking. So, I’d recommend getting a pen and some paper and feel free to pause the track if you need you…and you may need to.

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here via Screaming Pods (https://www.screamingpods.com/)

A huge THANK YOU to my friend and producer Sean Duregger (Twitter: @seanCduregger) and Screaming Pods (Twitter: @ScreamingPods) for hosting Sancta Colloquia (Twitter: @SanctaColloquia).

Here’s the video I referenced by Liam Miller featuring The Rev. Dr. John Flett:

Susan grew up in Huntsville, Alabama (aka Rocket City USA). She was homeschooled K-12 with her three younger sisters. During that time learned to play several instruments and developed a love of reading. Growing up she attended a non-denominational church with her family, where she learned to speak the language of Christianity with an evangelical/charismatic accent.

Susan received her Bachelor of Science in Mass Media Communication from Oral Roberts University. At ORU she participated in the MultiMedia Institute, the Honors Program, and the Missions & Community Outreach Department. She traveled with ORU Outreach to Poland, Ukraine, India, China, Japan, and Kenya. 

Not yet ready to give up travel or higher education, Susan went on to earn her Juris Doctor and Master of Dispute Resolution degrees from Pepperdine School of Law. While in law school she assisted in developing negotiation trainings at the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London, volunteered as a mediator in small claims court, advised the Supreme Court of Rwanda on case management and alternative dispute resolution, and interned with a trial judge in the Family Court division of the Los Angeles Superior Court.

After taking the bar, Susan spent a year in Kampala, Uganda through the Nootbaar Legal Fellowship. While there, she served as a court-appointed mediator in the Commercial Court and managed plea bargaining initiatives in the juvenile and criminal courts. She also earned a Certificate in Development Project Management, helped develop remand and diversion programs with the Children Justice Initiative, and learned to love African tea.

Susan returned to California to work at Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles, where she supervised legal clinics, developed partnerships with organizations like Homeboy Industries and local senior centers, coordinated pro bono services and volunteers, administered the internship program, and generally nerded out managing tech & systems issues. She also provided counsel and advice to low-income clients on legal matters such as post-conviction relief, immigration, housing, consumer law, and estate planning.

While acclimating to life in Los Angeles, Susan had the chance to re-examine many of the theological and political frameworks that she had grown up with in light of the people and real-life challenges she saw on a daily basis. Through friendships, books, and online conversations, she developed a new vocabulary of justice. These words and perspectives would serve her well during the initial process of coming out and navigating its complex relational & theological effects.

Susan currently works as a Managing Attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, where she leads a diverse team of legal and service professionals to connect community members with the Foundation’s many programs and offices. She also attends The Loft LA at Westwood United Methodist Church, spends (wastes? invests?) a remarkable amount of time on Twitter, and is perpetually finding new things to add to her reading list.

Recommended Reading/Works Mentioned in the Podcast:

Conversion, Encounter, and Politics of Communion

Sancta Colloquia episode 106 ft. Nic Don Stanton-Roark

In this episode of Sancta Colloquia, I had the incredible privilege of interviewing my Twitter friend: Nic Don Stanton-Roark (@ExilePolitics). Through our conversation, Nic Don shares the journey he’s been on from Atheism to Theism to Christianity. We get the details of how this journey worked itself out: from the comical episodes to the serious engagements with the dark side of life with suffering. The beauty of (or some of the beauty of) Nic Don’s story is that God is wholly other, one whom we encounter in ways that are external to us: God is made known in the event-encounter of faith. We are drawn out of ourselves towards God and towards others. And Nic Don makes the point that it’s not merely some private encounter, isolated from others people. Rather, not only are other people present to draw us into the story of Christ through faith, but even our ecclesiastical movements in church (the Sacraments, worship, liturgy, etc) are meant to draw us into encounter with God and with others. We never go it alone and it’s an illusion and lie if we think we can. I’m grateful to what Nic Don shared with me thus with you. These stories of God’s movement in our lives encourages us: maybe it’s not as quiet as it feels; God still moves.

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here via Screaming Pods (https://www.screamingpods.com/)

A huge THANK YOU to my friend and producer Sean Duregger (Twitter: @seanCduregger) and Screaming Pods (Twitter: @ScreamingPods) for hosting Sancta Colloquia (Twitter: @SanctaColloquia).

Nic Don Stanton-Roark is the archivist for the Church of God (Anderson), a Wesleyan holiness movement that emerged in Northern Indiana in the late 19th century. He has written curriculum for and pastored in the Church of God and attained a master of theological studies from the main seminary of the Church of God, Anderson School of Theology, in 2015, with a focus on political theology.

Books mentioned and recommended:

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation
Amos Yong, Theology and Down Syndrome
Thomas Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality (Didn’t name the book but referred to it)
William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist (didn’t name but referred to) 
Katie Grimes, Christ Divided: Antiblackness as Corporate Vice

I would also list Stanley J. Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church for info on how reform movements will begin egalitarian and then shift toward exclusion of women

Both my twitter and instagram are exilepolitics. My blog is theopolitical.wordpress.com.

 

Purity Culture and Toxic Theology

Sancta Colloquia episode 103 ft. Anastasia Satterfield

In this episode I get the opportunity to have my first in depth, voice-to-voice conversation with my new friend Anastasia Satterfield (Twitter: @the_stasia_bug). Anastasia and I have bonded over the Twitters via tweets about American Evangelicalism obsession with purity culture and the toxic application of theology that supports and surrounds it. We both agree that the impact of purity culture on the mind and body of any person (especially women) is not only devastating but also deeply damaging. Anastasia does an excellent job in this episode of detailing out and driving home just how bad the toxic application of theology can be by using her own story about her journey in American Evangelicalism and purity culture and her exit from–what she’d call her deconstruction. But her story doesn’t stop there; she doesn’t just walk (which has its place in the healing journey). She joins a *good* one and begins to experience what good theology is and embraces the healing that comes with being ministered to in such a way (both the comfort and the pain of relearning). She is clearly in the process of reconstruction and boy do we benefit from this: she’s an articulate teacher, wise beyond her years, passionate about people and good theology, and cares deeply about your journey and assisting you in your flourishing. Well, at least that was how I felt when I was finished talking with her.

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here via Screaming Pods (https://www.screamingpods.com/)

A huge THANK YOU to my friend and producer Sean Duregger (Twitter: @seanCduregger) and Screaming Pods (Twitter: @ScreamingPods) for hosting Sancta Colloquia (Twitter: @SanctaColloquia).

Anastasia Satterfield is from sunny and flat Central Valley in Northern California. She loves her church in San Francisco, traveling, working her three jobs, reading books about theology, and playing the piano whenever and wherever possible. She’s a college dropout, a deconstructing/reconstructing exvangelical, and is trying to figure out how to do this whole life thing without being crushed by the financial and mental/emotional weight of Capitalism. She lives on Twitter and love active, encouraging, and positive engagement from her followers who are also trying to work through their trauma and live life well.

Here are some resources from Anastasia for further reading and studying–she also includes a list of Twitter accounts that I would consider to be “must-follows”:

Books mentioned on the podcast:
Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God, Brian Zahnd
Sermon series relating to the book:
Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, Dr. Tina Sellers
Brain Zahnd’s sermon series on deconstruction:
City Church San Francisco recommended sermons (by Fred Harrell):
“A Church Rooted In Blessing”:
Rooted Series:
Follow list for twitter:
@lllogansays
@BrianZahnd
@fredharrell
@dwcongdon
@orthoheterodox1
@hannahpaasch
@GarrettEaglin
@pneumajustice
@CityChurchSF
@danandstephinsf
@existentialtheo
@danremps
@jrdkirk
@theboyonthebike
@zechareyah

“Why I Love Preaching”

Luke 1:1-4 (Homily)

When I was little girl, I wrote stories. Learning to read fueled my pint sized writing desire; I didn’t want to be merely a passenger on the story train, I wanted to call those places and beings into existence, I wanted to be the engineer. With a pencil, eraser, and a wide-ruled piece of paper, I summoned into being characters made of glue, talking dogs and cats, story-book ending reversals and what-ifs, magical places, deep woods, vast fields, and majestic horses.

That pencil and wide-ruled paper would give way to multicolored pens and spiral-bound notebooks of college-ruled sheets. I didn’t pass notes in high school; I passed stories with my best friend. Together we spun chapters upon chapters of tales of love and romance, bringing our secret crushes on cute soccer players to life.

As an English major with a creative writing focus in college, I wrote and wrote. Plays. Essays. Poetry. Fiction. Satire. In my spare time, I filled personal journals with angsty poetry and meandering nonsensical musings about life and existence, God and the divine, scripture, human pain and human suffering.

Even as I left college and joined the masses moving to and fro on Wall Street, my poetry and prose came with me. A few weeks before the events of 9/11 traumatized my city in devastating ways, I started writing stories again. A clay pot by the name of Eli, his buddy Marc, and the Potter would not only keep me company on the dark nights where I couldn’t process the horror I had just witnessed from the distance of 1.5 miles, but they would be the midwives through whom my processing of terror and suffering of fragile humanity and an apparently silent God were born.

In seminary, I’d find ways for my inner iconoclast to come out. A thesis and three supporting points was boring. I’d submit epic poems to answer the question of predestination, or spin a tale about why confirmation was an important step in the Episcopal church. And at night, I’d curl up with my boys, sometimes reading to them and sometimes allowing my spoken words to pull them into imaginary worlds before they drifted off into to their own.

As they grew, bedtime stories became story installments on 5×7 index cards taped to the inside of lunch-boxes. No longer was I escaping into fantasy worlds I created for myself, I was creating escapes for my boys from the structure of elementary school. An anxious day, a stressful day, a bad day could be paused for a few minutes; just enough time to rest and dive back in after lunch. Time and space were held back, barricaded against by words gathered as a fortress creating and holding a place for my boys to breathe.

Now I stand here. And I get to use not only my training and authority to educate you in things of theology and religion, but I get to put my hand once again to the pencil and the sheet to create for you worlds vastly different from the one you are all too familiar with, where for a few minutes you can suspend disbelief. This story telling is part of our Episcopal identity that is as deep as it is wide. We put great emphasis on every part of the service being a moment of potential encounter between you and God in the event of faith. From the first song to the last and everything in between is structured to make that encounter possible. Not least of which is the event of preaching.

In preaching I get to use my words to create for you a moment in time and space for you to get caught up and caught in. I get to use my words to pull you into the rich and verdant possibility of encounter with God in the event of faith. I get to bring eye-to-eye and hand-to-hand with a God who loves deeply and fully. I get to call into being a moment so filled with conflict and comfort, where you are encountered and altered so radically that if you are listening even just a little bit, you can’t help but leave a little bit different.

I get to tell you stories about words so imbued with fertility that they spontaneously generate worlds of life (from the smallest plant to the largest mountain and every living thing between). I get to bring you face to face with a mighty, divine power who is deeply impassioned over people and the world that bushes burn, waters part, rains cause floods, food falls from the sky, and the earth quakes. I get to place you among the crowd of people enslaved, freed, and on the run; who cross a sea between walls of water, roam painfully through miles and miles of dessert, are fed from the sky, look to snakes for healing, and struggle with faith and belief that the promise uttered way back when is still valid, will still be fulfilled.

I get to point to the prophets of Israel who were so filled with the spirit and divine presence, that they couldn’t be silent anymore and spoke up, calling their people around them to wake up, hear, and return to the truth. I get to seat you at the stage of the greatest and most romantical story of love and desire between two people that Romeo and Juliet blush. I get to recite for you the poetry and songs of a people overcome with love and gratitude, hope and confidence, and sometimes fear and despair. I get to expose you to wisdom so ancient and so true, that there isn’t a fortune cookie or a horoscope in the world that could ever hold a match to it.

I get to ask you to be quiet as we all silently shuffle into a cave where a sleeping baby lies in a manger; “ancient wisdom born a wriggly infant to save the world,” I whisper to you. “Long awaited hope fulfilled.” I push you into the rushing and pressing crowds who are eager to see and hear and touch “This man who told me everything about me” (cf. Jn 4). I then prod you in front of a horrific instrument of death, and ask you to look up and see the painful death of Christ, this man who is God. Over the jeering, mocking, and taunting crowd, I holler, “This is what love looks like: sacrifice!” And three days later I get to bring you to another cave, an empty tomb, and let you feel and get caught up in the energy and fear of the women fleeing to go tell the disciples: Jesus is risen! And unlike before, now is a time for loud and ruckus noise! “Rejoice! Lift your voice! Love won! Life triumphed over death; light obliterated the darkness! Hallelujah!”

As a faithful tour guide of this great story, I then walk you through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the fits and starts of the early church comprised of people trying to figure out what just happened exactly, people like you and me. And I get to show you—each of you—where you’ve been grafted into this story since the beginning of time, where you along with all people of all history, are the intended recipient of this great work and act of love of God. I’m not here to give you another syllabus decorated with lists of expectations and to-dos; I’m here to call you out of all of that for a handful of minutes in order to tell you about what I think is the greatest story ever told, to write and speak you into it. I’m here to recreate that story for you in this time and space; to make that story come alive in this place at this moment.

I’m here to hand the story on to you …just as [it was] handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about [the great story of God’s deep abiding love for God’s world and God’s people, for you, God’s beloved child]” (adapted from Luke 1:1-4).