Monday, June 10, 2019

Being an Awkward Ally

My new sweatshirt (UMC Baptismal vows).
Click here to order one for yourself. 

This being Pride Month, I thought it might be helpful for some of my readers to know that at least twice this past year I have unwittingly used painfully outdated terms in the midst of conversations with friends who are part of the LGBTQI+ community. Neither time was I called out, but I spotted the micro-cringe and realized I’d clearly just messed up. You see, I’m in catch-up mode at the moment--having a bit of a Rip Van Winkle experience. 

In high school and undergrad I did my best to attend all the awareness-building and sensitivity training events that I could on all sorts of subjects. I still remember my freshman year hearing the word “hermaphrodite” for the first time; it was used as a self-label by a young adult who openly spoke of their experience growing up in a body that didn’t cleanly fit in the traditional male/female boxes. That testimony greatly helped me rethink what I thought I knew about gender and sexual orientation. A couple years later, I joined a congregation that hosted a support group for Trans persons. One evening the congregation was invited to a special listening event, where members of that support group shared with us personal accounts of their struggles. Over 15 years later, I shared what I’d learned from those talks with an Algerian who was leading a rapidly growing congregation composed almost entirely of recently baptized Algerians. This was the first time he had heard about such issues, and we pondered together the pastoral implications. What advice would he give if someone in his congregations revealed to him that they weren’t actually the sex or gender that they presented to the community? What would he advise them on the topic of dating and marriage? I am convinced that by having the courage to engage my colleague in that conversation, I planted seeds that will make a huge difference one day for LGBTQI+ persons in his community.  

But here’s the thing: I engaged in that conversation having spent the past decade living in three African countries where talk about such issues remains rather taboo. Sure, I learned/studied a ton on the topics of colonialism and racism and facilitating healthy interfaith conversations, but during that time I failed to keep up with the changing conversations around sex and gender. I only found out a few months ago that the term hermaphrodite has become offensive (We should say intersex instead). And, I kid you not, I’ve had so few conversations about transgender issues that recently I actually accidentally said ‘transexual’ at a church meeting (I partly blame that on the fact that the song Sweet Transvestite was stuck in my head that day, but still, that’s not acceptable— for that matter, neither is using the word transvestite unless you are reclaiming it for yourself).

So, does that make me a crappy ally? In some ways, yes, it does.

One of the things my deep dive into anti-racism books has taught me is that we all were raised in the toxic sludge of racism (and sexism and host of other isms). While it is easy to believe that racism is bad, purging our minds of every single unexamined racist assumption is a journey that takes a lifetime. If we beat ourselves up or lash out every time someone calls us out for saying or doing something that perpetuates a racist system, we won’t get very far down the road.  It is much healthier to admit to ourselves that we are racist anti-racists, and then get on with the work of becoming less racist. I assert the same logic can be applied to all forms of allyship.     

I’m not sure if I’ve yet earned the privilege of calling myself a LGBTQI+ ally. I’m not even sure if ally is a label one is allowed to give oneself or if it must be bestowed. But I do know that I’m making an effort to do better, and from the depths of my heart I say Happy Pride Month.

Love, 

Taylor    

Sunday, April 14, 2019

A Palm Sunday Reflection


The following is the reflection I shared at the April 12, 2019 Friday chapel service for Course of Study students at Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC. Since a number of those there requested a copy, I decided to share it on my blog.  


Course of Study Worship Service
Wesley Seminary Chapel
April 12, 2019 (Approaching Palm Sunday)
Text: Luke 19: 28-40


It is wonderful to be gathered in this space surrounded by those who have answered the call to dedicate their lives to spreading the Good News of reconciliation that is possible through our Messiah Jesus Christ. I got back to DC last night after a two-week marathon of participating in United Methodist mission conferences. The North East Jurisdiction held their annual Mission Academy, which I highly recommend you all attend next year. And, Global Ministries celebrated the bicentennial of Methodist mission societies with a phenomenal gathering of folks coming to reflect upon the past, present, and future of the missional activities of the people called The United Methodist Church. I come back from these gatherings with my cup overflowing. I testify to you today that the denomination we love is blessed with many, many brilliant servant leaders of all ages—both laity and clergy. I testify to lives and communities transformed as a result of United Methodists taking leaps of faith, crossing social and economic boundaries, and speaking prophetic words. I want you to know that these conferences were not fluffy don’t-open-any- closets propaganda events. They were spaces where we could celebrate and confess our past and present actions and inactions and where we could have the hard talks about what course corrections must be made in order to be better disciples.  

John Wesley taught that a Methodist preacher should be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice. So, when I received the message while at these meetings asking if I could preach at this service, I answered affirmatively. In lieu of a normal sermon, however, I’d like to share some reflections on how we preach on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week.

But first, a word for preachers about what Palm Sunday reminds us. The Gospel of Luke tells us that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the “whole multitude of disciples” spread their cloaks on the road (knowing full well that their cloak—possibly their only cloak—could ruined by doing so). As Jesus approached “the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" (Luke 19:37-38)

One thing I’ve wondered for years is how many –or what percentage--of those who placed their cloaks on the road that day were among those shouting “Crucify him!” later that week vs how many of them followed Jesus to the cross and witnessed his clothing being divided by the soldiers. One of the reasons I wonder this because, as a second-generation Methodist pastor, I know too well that a pastor shouldn’t take at face value praise or rejection from one’s congregants. There is a strong probability that same person who lavishes you with praise at your arrival to the appointment—for you are so much better than that previous pastor—will be the first person to loudly complain about you the moment your ministry doesn’t match what they wanted you to do. While listening to feedback to become more effective pastors is important, we must also resist the temptation of prioritizing trying to be who the congregants want us to be over listening deeply to God’s call and being faithful to it.     


In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor critiques what she calls a “full solar Christianity,” and she lifts up the holiness of literal and metaphorical darkness. She asserts that too many of our churches focus solely on praising God, making joyful noises. We like our sanctuaries to be full of light and our music and preaching upbeat. But not every moment of our lives feels warm and sunny. For the person grieving, the person suffering, the person in distress stepping inside of a building where the unwritten rule is that you must plaster a smile on your face, that you must sing songs of praise, that you must ‘get over’ your grief quickly and be thankful for what you have or else you are somehow failing to be a faithful Christian—for these such persons solar churches merely heighten their feelings of alienation, of not belonging to the community of faith. Solar congregations do serious spiritual harm to those who most need acceptance and healing. We must, therefore, stop equating darkness with absence of God and learn to affirm and embrace the sacredness of the literal and metaphorical dark. [And, yes, the ways we continue to use words like “dark” and “white” in our churches does undermine our anti-racism efforts] We must become a church that recognizes that God is God in the morning, in the evening, and in the middle of the night. I want to share with you some of her words from this book.

“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”  

“There is a light that shines in the darkness, which is only visible there.” 

“I wish I could turn to the church for help, but so many congregations are preoccupied with keeping the lights on right now that the last thing they want to talk about is how to befriend the dark.” 

“As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. ... new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” 

“I always wondered why it took "three days" for significant things to happen in the Bible--Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale, Jesus spent three days in the tomb, Paul spent three days blind in Damascus--and now I know. From earliest times, people learned that was how long they had to wait in the dark before the sliver of the new moon appeared in the sky. For three days every month they practiced resurrection.” 
  
Siblings in Christ, hear what is being said. Good News comes in many forms. Not every sermon you preach has to be celebratory.  There is a time to mourn, a time for doubt. There are times of suffering. The Good News is that love remains in the darkest hours, and not only does it remain it can be experienced more powerfully in those sacred times, for it is in the sacred darkness that miracles occur.      

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

For those Exhausted this Ash Wednesday...

Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash
My friends,

I love Ash Wednesday.  Those of you who have known me for awhile and/or read my 2018 Ash Wednesday post know how sacred this day is to me. But today, I'm feeling numb and exhausted. And so, I'm going to take my own advice from Saturday's post and step aside from my podium and amplify someone else's words of wisdom.  Please check out Candice Marie Benbow's 2017 reflection For Sisters with Nothing Left to Give Up for LentIt spoke to me, and I pray it speaks to you too.

Taylor


Saturday, March 02, 2019

Being an Intersectional Ally #GC2019

Author's confession (March 21, 2019): Since publishing this post that went surprisingly viral, I've been taught about the history of the term "intersectionality" and how law professor Kimberle Crenshaw defined the word when she created it in 1989. Now knowing this, I repent of my participation in the appropriation/morphing of her word. I'm still trying to figure out what alternative word to use for recognizing that issues of discrimination/marginalization intersect and that we must examine the layers/intersections of oppression whenever we address social justice issues.
_____________________________________________________


My UMC companions in this journey,

I know you are probably still emotionally raw from GC2019, but there’s something we need to talk about, and we need to talk about it now before we get too far down the road in our “what’s next?” planning. Please, please hear what I’m about to say as coaching from a missiologist who applauds your passion and wants to help you maximize your effectiveness. 


Listening can be liberating
Everything I want to teach or remind you in this blog post is stuff that countless folks smarter and wiser than I am have expressed more competently than I am about to do—and many did so generations ago.

I’m not even the first to apply the assertions to what has been happening the past few days in The UMC (read, for example, the Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey's public Facebook post).  I am writing this because, if you won’t listen to the Rev. Dr. Lightsey, who is a highly accomplished scholar and author, and the first out Black lesbian elder in the UMC, perhaps you’ll listen to me. After all, I present as a non-threatening slender and porcelain skinned cisgender heterosexual female. As a POC friend with the body of an offensive linesman once pointed out to me, all this plus my “morbidly sweetened personality” gives me a cloak-and-dagger superpower that he does not have. That is to say, I can get away with saying the exact same thing that friends and colleagues have said and not only be heard but come out miraculously unscathed. I don’t get labeled as “angry” or “divisive.” At worst, I’m branded a maverick and given the cold shoulder by those who believe (often correctly) that I'm talking about them. 

This specific power/privilege of mine has its roots in the intersection of racism and sexism in America. It is not my fault that I have it, and there’s almost nothing I could do to get rid of it,* but it is my responsibility to study the historical/sociological reasons why I have it and how, as follower of Jesus who is committed to being on the side of the marginalized, to appropriately leverage and check that power. And so, I’ve done a lot of reading and listening on the topics of racism, sexism, colonialism, and a host of other isms, including those that most directly impact the lives of GBLTQI+ persons. I’ve read about the importance of recognizing how forms of oppression overlap and interact, how a person can be simultaneously oppressed and an oppressor but never neutral,** and how failing to explore the complex intersections of power and forms of oppression often results in “liberating” one group at the detriment of another.***  I've stared into the mirror and called myself out many times, and I welcome receiving constructive criticism as I continue to learn and grow.   

And, yes, I share all of this mostly just to ease you into what I really want to say, and I’m saying it primarily to my friends who benefit from the most number of privileges (especially, but not exclusively, to white cisgender heterosexual persons):

Your privileges in this society might not make you the best person to try to pull together all the coalitions, sit at the table where decisions are being made, or be a core member of the dream team that leads us into the emergence of something radically new. 


Please, please consider stepping aside from the doorways and podiums you probably don’t even realize you are dominating and fall inline behind the folks who have so much more right to a place at the head of the table where these decisions are to be made. Yes, come and bring to the table your resources (material and financial) and your connections, but then go sit quietly in the corner of the room unless/until those with more claim to the table request your input. Trust me on this:**** while at first it may feel disorienting and somehow wrong to not be the one mobilizing the troops and leading the charge, it is liberating to take a back seat and instead focus your efforts on amplifying and supporting someone else’s voice and vision.

Again, I know this is hard to hear. And I deeply appreciate all that you have done, are doing, and will do in your ministry and advocacy work. I too am wound up with passion and ready to mobilize my people and shout "Allons-y!"  But I know that ultimately that wouldn't be helpful to the cause. 

And so, I humbly suggest that, instead, let us put our names on multiple ally sign-up lists, and wait to be told where and when to show up and to whom to write out the check.


An intersectional ally and your friend,

Taylor


* Except perhaps shaving my head and dressing/presenting as “butch” or an androgynous person.  And to my white male friends: it isn't your fault that society assumes that you are inherently smarter, more competent, and a better preacher/leader than the rest of us. Just don't be fooled into believing that you are. Leverage your power to hand others the microphone and to publicly admire their work (and, yes, this includes demanding they get at least equal pay and appointment opportunities).

** There is so much to unpack in this statement—especially when we talk about how to be a faithful ally when one marginalized group does harm to another marginalized group.  During GC2019, this question moved from the theoretical to the pragmatic for me. Also: I highly recommend (re)reading Albert Memmi's The Colonizer and The Colonized when wrestling with the myth of neutrality when living in a society with oppressors and those being oppressed.  

***For example: the racist history of the women’s suffrage movement in the USA.  

****Why should you consider trusting me? Perhaps because I’m a recovering white savior who now serves as the Rev. Dr. Mande Muyombo's (UMC Bishop of North Katanga) assistant. I feel less angsty, more at peace, and more involved in a mission to transform the world by doing tedious tasks for him (e.g. proofreading letters, filling out grant forms, creating Power Point slides, etc.) than I ever did when I was trying to be the sort of activist who gets written about in history books.   

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln... #GC2019


Beloveds,

I’m not going to mince words. What happened on the floor of The UMC’s 2019 Special Session of the General Conference (GC2019) was not Christian conferencing. It was an ugly live-streamed political battle that has now been reported on by nearly all the major news outlets in the USA as well as a number of international news networks. There are United Methodists all over the globe who love their church who are grieving deeply today. Within my network of friends, I have already received a prayer request for a young adult who attempted to end their life after being devastated by the results of GC2019. 

I write to you today as someone who does not take what has happened lightly. And so I say that if you need to take some time to grieve, take it. Grant yourself permission to grieve deeply, for we only grieve things that are precious to us. And while you grieve, know that you are not alone. Know that the church you love hasn’t gone anywhere. The church is the people, and the community who loved and affirmed last week is still the community who loves and affirms today.     

Often when I would debrief with my late father about a difficult situation, he would respond, “Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”*  And so, I thought it may be encouraging to share with you that, in other ways, General Conference was wonderful. 

GC2019 was a gathering of passionate pastors and social activists who have refused to give up their claim to the name United Methodist. For me, it felt like I was in the show This is Your Life. During this compressed window of time, I reconnected with so many old friends—many I hadn’t seen in over a decade— from nearly every chapter of my journey as a United Methodist. It was as if the Spirit was running a defrag program on my life’s narrative as well as introducing me to new friends with whom I plan to work closely in the coming years. 

That is to say, kindred spirits spent this week at GC2019 getting uber-networked (UM connectionalism!) and making plans for our future together. Each evening we prayed, sang, and studied scriptures as a family. These sacred gatherings were beautiful. My cup overflowed with the reassurance that the church I had mourned losing was indeed still alive, and there was still a place for me in it.  

My siblings, there is a place for you too in this community. 

As we prepare to begin this time of Lent, let us lament; let us confess; let us pray, and let us remember that we worship a God of new life and resurrection. Easter is coming.

Amen.     




*For my friends outside the USA: this is an old joke referencing the assassination of President Lincoln while he was at the theater.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Pastoral Letter from The UMC's General Conference 2019


Sisters and brothers in Christ,

It has been a rough few days for United Methodists who believe that God's great love not simply includes but calls all of God's children to fully participate in all that God is doing in this world. And thus yesterday I did something I'd never done before. I got up at 6am to slip in a swim in the hotel pool. I knew that I needed to start the day at optimal mental health because it was going to be a long emotionally intense day, and indeed it was.  

I went back to the pool this morning, but this time I immediately dove down—down to the bottom of the deep end, staying as long as I possibly could.  Seeking solace, I fully immersed myself in the waters.  And there in the abyss a song began floating through my mind. Not just any song, but Three Little Birds, a song whose words are found in the first book my father bought my daughter. 

"Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin': "Don't worry about a thing,
'‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

Rise up this mornin',
Smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', “This is my message to you-ou-ou:"


At the bottom of a swimming pool I worshiped with an opening hymn by Bob Marley and a recessional of Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin (because, of course that is what my subconscious’ playlist popped out next).

My beloved sisters and brothers, don’t worry about a thing. Be happy. Not a happiness that ignores the realities of this world or the very real pain it inflicts, but a happiness that defiantly stares into the face of those who marginalize you and says “You have no power over me. You don’t get to take away my joy.” A happiness that boldly prophesies that, in the end, every little thing is going to be alright. And as my father loved to say, “If it ain’t alright, it isn’t the end.”

Much love from The UMC’s General Conference 2019








Friday, February 15, 2019

Coming to Boston in April

Friends in the Boston area-

I'll be speaking at two events near you the first week in April.  I encourage you to sign-up for the UMC's North Eastern Jurisdiction's (a collaboration of UMCOR and UMVIM) Mission Academy April 1st-4th.  I'll be Monday's keynoter and will be leading a couple workshops there throughout the week. 

On April 2nd, you can find me at Boston University (see flyer below). 

Hope to see you soon!

Taylor




Monday, January 28, 2019

If Disillusioned Volunteers and Missiologists Got Together

As I mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy satire as a form of commiserating frustrations, so I wanted to share with you some links to folks who share many of my frustrations and twisted sense of humor.  I also want to put out to the world a "What if?" that's been on my mind lately.

A few years back a friend introduced me to SAIH Norway's youtube page.  Their videos, including the "charity single"  Africa for Norway cracked me up, and I loved the related resources on their RadiAid website. While my memory of the timeline is fuzzy, somewhere in there I read about the game JadedAid  and was highly amused. And then there was the BarbieSavior Instagram that I loved so much I incorporated into slides for my workshops.  Well, now there is The Failed Missionary Podcast's White Savior Series, which, while not suitable for work, does answer my question of what would happen if you got a bunch of these folks together and recorded their conversations.

While thus far I've been mostly just observing the rise of what I'm calling the Jaded Missionary Movement (see also my Pinterest board for many articles on this theme), I am pondering what would happen if these folks, who have strong online followings (Oh, and don't forget about The Very Worst Missionary) were put in a room with a bunch of professors of mission---say, for example--at an event hosted by the American Society of Missiology.  There is so much the two groups could teach one another.  What could they accomplish together when it comes to changing the conversations in "Western" churches about how to be better disciples?  I believe the answer is: A Lot. 

Until that day comes,  I'm going to keep on encouraging mission scholars/professors to check out the aforementioned websites and telling jaded missionaries that their observations are valid and that, instead of walking away, it is time to dig deeper, because they have hit upon something truly valuable.