Dating After Deconstructing Your Faith

During an episode of the podcast “Dirty Rotten Church Kids,” a listener wrote in and asked for advice on how to date after growing up in purity culture and deconstructing your faith. The hosts did that thing where they said, “I’m so glad I’m partnered off; I probably wouldn’t survive dating now!” This is an entirely unhelpful answer, so I’ve decided to share my thoughts.

How to Date if You Hate Dating Apps

It’s 2021, kids, and that means that the most likely way you’re going to meet someone dateable is through a dating app. If that idea causes you intense anxiety (as it did me), here are alternative suggestions:

  1. Use the internet, but differently. I met my girlfriend because we both joined the same Meetup group “Nerdy Ladies of Vancouver.” Putting myself out there in a social context was way easier for me than if there had been a romantic expectation. So search for events in your area (this is key if you want to avoid falling in love with someone who shares your interest but lives on the other side of the planet) and try new things. It could be a cooking class, a D&D group, or a sports watching event. Obviously, COVID caveat. Stay smart, folks.
  2. Say yes to everything. If you want to meet new potentially dateable people, you’ve got to be around new people. So when your coworker invites you to a hike, say yes. If your friend invites you to a birthday party that involves all of her social circles, say yes. This can lead you down a rabbit hole of new friends, new social groups, and new people to chat up and date.

Prioritizing Shared Values, Not Shared Beliefs

Okay, let’s assume you’ve found someone you want to date. Now what?? You’re a formerly intense religious person who is torn between wanting someone who understands what you’ve been through and wanting someone who doesn’t carry the same baggage. I think this is a very personal decision, and I can only speak to what worked for me. I wanted to date someone who would challenge me and bring new ideas to the table, but who was respectful and interested (as well as interesting). So here’s some advice if you also find yourself in that camp.

There is probably a lot of morality and high standards still rattling around in your head, despite your best efforts to be accepting and open-minded. It’s hard to turn off all the judgment, both of yourself and of others. And no matter how ridiculous you think the idea of “unequally yoked” is, maybe a part of you worries that a difference in beliefs is insurmountable. Honestly, I do think it’s a good idea to find someone who is on your level. I just think what that means is slightly different.

I was always taught that you had to partner with someone who shared your exact beliefs, or else the relationship would fall apart. I don’t think that’s exactly true. I would instead say that it is very important to find someone who shares your same values. If you value integrity and honesty, you’re going to be annoyed and disappointed if you date someone who doesn’t. For me, it was important to be with someone who valued kindness, generosity (bonus points that we both struggle with it but want to be better), community, and personal growth. Although my girlfriend and I don’t share the same wordy beliefs, the emotion and drive underlying those beliefs is the same.

Additionally, sharing the same values enables you to have those hard conversations about differing beliefs. When discussing our shared value of generosity, I can tell Rachel about tithing and the lessons I learned in the church about giving to others first. She can tell to me about Stoic beliefs in resisting materialism. We can appreciate each other and learn from each other because we trust the shared value will lead us to respecting the resulting belief.

Coming Out as Christian

Okay, one last piece. If you’re anything like me, you probably have some shame rattling around in your head about how self-righteous you used to be (haha, let’s be real, still are!). If you’ve got friends and dating partners who aren’t Christian, it’s probably going to feel very embarrassing to come out to them as a former missionary. I get it!

I was once hanging out with my big gay group of friends, floating in inner tubes on a lake, when we noticed nearby a small group of people performing an outdoor baptism. My friends joked, “Run away! It’s a cult!” and I felt SO caught in the middle. On the one hand, I knew their anger and distrust was real. I grew up with Christians ostracizing, belittling, and second-class citizening gay people. On the other hand, I was baptized, and I knew the power of symbolically dying to yourself and starting a new life full of possibility, community, and hope. In my fear and confusion, I stayed silent.

It took nearly a year before, ironically, I came out to my gay friends as a still-kinda-Christian exvangelical. It felt just as amazing and freeing as when I came out as queer to my Christian family. And the rewards were just as sweet. I found out that one of my friends knew all the words to Veggie Tale songs, and another opened up to me about the conversion therapy he went through. An atheist friend started listening to the Bible story podcast I make with my girlfriend, and he was super into learning the ins and outs of stories he’d always discounted. I didn’t have to hide any part of myself, and it turned out people had thoughts about spirituality that wouldn’t have been brought up if I hadn’t opened the door.

Whether with friends or with dating partners, intimacy requires vulnerability. Those of us who have – or especially those who are still in the the process of – deconstructing our faith can find it hard to share our pasts with others for fear of judgment or misunderstanding. After all, how are we supposed to explain the good and the bad of growing up evangelical if we can only barely explain it to ourselves? But it’s necessary, especially in a dating relationship. You’ve got to know and be known, as awkward as it can sometimes be.

It’s worth it. Dating after deconstructing your faith can help you reach the integration that you crave. Sharing Bible stories with my girlfriend meant that on a lazy river, she got caught in the reeds and then yelled, “Look! I’m baby Moses!” and spun to see if I noticed her Bible reference. It meant getting to cry with my partner on Easter because it still felt meaningful, but I didn’t know what to do with it. It meant saying, “Nope, you can’t make fun of that, it’s too personal.” It meant talking and talking and talking, growing closer and deeper as we find our spiritual footing together.

I know I’m lucky. Not everyone that you date will be accepting of your past or will want to take on that baggage. Totally fair! But there will be people out there who are up to the task, and you owe it to yourself to step out and try.

Today I’m Excited About: Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

A scholar of American Christianity presents a seventy-five-year history of evangelicalism that identifies the forces that have turned Donald Trump into a hero of the Religious Right.

I saw this book on a friend’s Goodreads page on Sunday, January 3rd. I immediately checked out the ebook from the library and compulsively read Du Mez’s historical explanation for a movement that has baffled me for over four years. On Wednesday, January 6th, Trump supporters rioted and broke into the Capitol building while many waved “Jesus Saves” flags.

I was both shocked and cynically unsurprised.

I have never understood the passion evangelicals have for Donald Trump. That’s too mild. A few months after he was elected president, I remember had coffee with a friend and tried to work up the courage to admit: my faith was shaken. I had been raised to value humility, forgiveness, understanding, and love. Yet the people who taught me those values were supporting a man who was the antithesis of everything I held dear. I couldn’t reconcile what I had been taught with what I was seeing. What I have continued to see.

I am not interested in pointing fingers. I want to talk about Jesus and John Wayne, and how it put these past four years into a historical context that finally made sense to me. Although the evangelicalism that I grew up with included lovely, kind people who cared deeply about each other, I kept recognizing the stories laid out in this book. Evangelical Christianity thrives on an enemy, though its face has changed over the decades: Communism, feminism, Islam, progressivism. And what better to fight an enemy with than an army? Militarism and Christianity go hand in hand more often than not (will I ever forget that 4th of July church service that started with a montage of war machines?). Du Mez charts the connections between evangelical leaders and the military since the 1920s. She also charts how evangelicals became more patriotic and patriarchal, how they consistently lauded immoral men who shouted loudly about right wing values. Donald Trump is nothing new.

Listen, I’m tired of this. Writing just this much makes me want to curl into a ball and avoid everyone forever. I am so ashamed of evangelicals. I was one. I still admire so much of it. I hate it. I sometimes agree with the people who call it a cult. I want to defend “not all evangelicals!” I’m tired.

Someday I might be able to read a book like Jesus and John Wayne with emotional distance. But for now, I’m reading it like it can reveal the world to me, explaining how the world I grew up in was full of so many cancers. It was a depressing read, but an enlightening one as well.

Recommended to people outside of evangelicalism who are confused by the violence inside and to people like me who grew up evangelical and don’t know what to do about that.

Curiously Strong Podcast

For the last several months,
my friends April and Jess have been working on a new project:

Curiously Strong Logo

All ten episodes of season one are available now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.  Check out episode descriptions below if you want to pick and choose your way through our conversations about identity in our new and confusing phase of life after leaving a lifetime of evangelicalism.

  1. Introductions (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Meet your hosts: Jess, April, and Trish as we introduce ourselves in this pilot episode of the podcast. Learn about how we met each other and how we got to the point of starting this project as we talk about growing up evangelical and ultimately what led to severing ourselves from that identity. How do people identify themselves nowadays and what does it say about them? Get ready for lots of questions, lots of (loud) laughs, and lots of fun stories about how we cope with the aftermath of a religious upbringing.

  2. Enneagram (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    In this episode, your hosts discuss everything Enneagram related: how we typed and mis-typed ourselves, how we got into it in the first place, how this relates to our evangelical and post-evangelical selves, and what we like most about our own types. April realizes that there is a type pattern in her friends/family circle, Trish has an ability to move from her type to her wing with ease when the situation necessitates it, and Jess is still working on not apologizing so much. Rather than having this be an explanatory episode about what the Enneagram is, we assume that the listener already has a basic knowledge of this typing system and discuss how it impacts us personally. Find out whether there can be a future for this podcast if two out of the three don’t like engaging in conflict (spoiler: there can) and what Trish said that made April respond with: “I’m going to get that tattooed on me.”

  3. Religious Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Let’s talk about religion, the reason we are all here. You’ll find out what religious climate/culture everyone grew up in and what we would consider ourselves now. A major discussion point revolves around reasons and catalysts for leaving the faith or making pretty big adjustments if not leaving entirely.  While religion certainly has its positive parts, we have also felt the awkward, isolating, and even hurtful aspects of it that influence our thoughts and behaviours to this day. We have all felt the in-between of not belonging to the Christian group anymore but also not really belonging to the secular community, and that can be a lonely place. We raise a lot of serious (and not so serious) questions such as “What the hell is flag-waving?”, “What is the age of accountability and should it be lower?”, and “What does it mean to have an identity as a changing human?” Prepare to either relate to a lot of the facets of Christian upbringing or be pretty weirded out by the stuff we used to do.

  4. Work Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    On today’s episode your hosts talk about our day jobs, what we love most about them, how they relate to our identity, and whether we find them fulfilling. Work is a big part of everyone’s lives because we spend so much of our time doing it, so it is bound to influence us in a major way. But how much of our life is work, really? Does it consume us entirely or do we find a balance to enjoy it when we do show up?  We should be seeking alignment, not have one thing take over everything. But we also recognize that having these choices is a privilege, an opportunity that we are going to take and run with.  Listen to us answer the daunting question: “If you had to step away from work for a period of time, how would you feel/how would it affect you?” As structure and productivity prove to be essential for a fulfilling life, the idea of not having a work identity would be difficult for us.

  5. Sexual Identity Pt 1 (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Today April, Trish, and Jess spill the tea about all things sexuality. The episode starts off with us explaining how we currently identify sexually and the complicated journey from childhood until now where we are finally comfortable with who we are. Sexuality is hugely influenced by a religious upbringing and can sometimes be incredibly damaging. They bring up the struggles of sexuality, the harmful purity culture, the idea of casual sex, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and why Jess read Every Young Man’s Battle. We realized that much of our sexual “sin” was pure thought crime (i.e. lusting) and how this ultimately led to dissociation from our bodies. Surprisingly there are also some good things about growing up in a conservative sexual culture that come up. But then the conversation shifts back to the weird, heteronormative concept of virginity and how in actuality sex is nuanced, individual, and personal.

  6. Sexual Identity Pt 2 (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    We now talk about what our sexuality means for our day to day mental space and relationships. Hear why Trish thinks it’s different coming out in Canada versus the US. We also discuss the question: “Is it necessarily our sexuality changing or is our relationship to it changing? What situations am I putting myself in that are going to draw out these sides out of it?” Sexuality is very fluid and weird and nuanced and that is okay, because for every human that exists there is a new way of being. And as language changes, so can labels. We also really get into how sexuality relates to feminism, body positivity, and power.

  7. Relational Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    How has the experience of leaving evangelicalism affected the relationships we have with the people around us? We need to be shifting away from an “us” versus “them” mentality because so much of conervsative Christianity is defining yourself by whether you are in the in group or out group. Whether you are bad or good, right or wrong, saved or lost. Christianity had taught us that everyone is our responsibility because we put them on a path to either heaven or hell purely based on our interactions, which creates an impossible burden. But now we can say: “I can remember someone’s humanity but I don’t have to interact with it. Not everyone is my responsibility.” We also tackle topics like forced vulnerability in small/community groups causing psychological harm and how much we dislike it when people tell us they are going to pray for us. Some questions we consider are: How do we balance real vulnerability and sharing experiences while not having to justify and defend our life choices? How do we say no without having to explain ourselves and how are our boundaries with other people now that god is out of the picture?

  8. Privilege Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    A Canadian, an American, and a German talk about what privilege means to us and where we source it from. Whether it’s the colour of our skin, our respective home countries, or the religion we grew up with, we all had immense privilege in our lives despite our individual seasons of pain. We try to be as honest as we can be with ourselves in this episode and acknowledge the things that have paved the way for us to succeed in this life. We also talk about the rarely discussed idea that growing up Christian gives you the unique privilege of being trusted within your community. There is an assumption of good character as a Christian that influences someone else’s decision to hire you since you share the same values, as we all have experienced.

  9. Online Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    From AOL chatrooms to Myspace to Instagram, we have evolved in how we communicate with and to the world. Embarrassing posts and status updates were a part of all our online lives, but we were lucky that it all happened when no one was really paying attention. We discuss how, because of the compulsive need to share, it makes it hard to “be in the moment” without thinking of the different lenses for this situation. Are we just living for the end product? Or is it possible to actually achieve a balance of being present in a moment as well as capturing it for future memories? Context matters, so we also talk about how we recognize that we may not be entirely the same person online as we are in “real life”. We answer the question: Since becoming an exvangelical, how has your online presence changed? It turns out we all have very different answers.

  10. Religious Identity (the Good Stuff) (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    We have talked a lot about the ways that our religious upbringing has hurt us, but we wanted to dedicate an entire episode to the good things we are taking away from evangelicalism. 
    What did we learn from church? What opportunities were presented to us? Community always has been an important one and one we hear from lots of other exvangelicals and ex-religious people as well. Another facet is the charitable spirit of Christianity (when done right) and how it often changes lives for the better. Trish loves the Bible as wisdom literature and likes thinking about the good things we can get out of it. Jess has been taught that everyone has inherent value and no one is beyond redemption. April values the importance of not seeing people as objects but rather as full human beings. Listen to find out all the other positive things we’re taking for evangelicalism as this season of identity comes to a close. 

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#Confirmed: My Heart is Episcopalian

I wrote this in August 2017 and didn’t post it.  Today I went to an Anglican church in Vancouver, and I sat there with tears in my eyes nearly the whole time because I felt excited about God in a way I haven’t in years.  I feel too raw to talk about today’s experience, but I loved it for many of the same reasons I loved what I wrote below.

To any other progressive old souls wondering if there’s a place for you in a spiritual community, TAKE HEART.

For about a year now, I’ve wanted to attend an Episcopalian church.  A couple of my friends who have been on similar spiritual journeys as myself left Baptist for Episcopalian churches, and they spoke glowingly of the freedom to doubt and discuss.  I wanted to see for myself, but I was scared that reality wouldn’t live up to the vision I’d built in my head.  When I did a Google search of Episcopal churches in the area and went to the first website, the very first thing this church wanted me to see was this:

“We believe that God’s love is always expanding and calling us to love one another in new and deeper ways. The love of Christ welcomes us all to fully participate in the life and leadership of the Church, regardless of gender identity, race, age, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstances, family configuration, or difference of ability. Our community is made stronger by your unique presence.”

This was exactly the sort of openness that I was craving, but what if the website was a lie?  Finally, last Sunday, I drew up my courage and went on my own to a new church.

Y’all.  I found my people.

For starters, I’m apparently a medieval monk (no surprise), because the stone floors and wooden benches resonated with my soul.  There were only a few dozen (all elderly) people in the service I attended, singing rich hymns I didn’t know with warbling voices, and my soul ached with joy.  We said communal prayers and recited creeds, and the connection I felt toward Christians around the globe and throughout history was so comforting.  The leaders read Scripture passages from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the New Testament, and then the reverend (a woman!) stood and TALKED ABOUT CHARLOTTESVILLE.  She spoke about the horror of seeing the continued racism of our nation.  She spoke about how, in every generation from Jesus to today, sin urges us to create hierarchies and divisions.  She preached a combination of Jesus and liberal politics and I WAS WITH MY PEOPLE.

I don’t know if I can explain how important this felt?  It reminded me of how I went to seminary as both a Christian and a feminist, nervously determined to see if at the end of three years I could make them fit together.  How, by the time I graduated, I had studied the topic so much that I could no longer remember how someone could be a Christian and NOT be a feminist, and I’d found a community that felt the same.

My beliefs have grown further away from my Baptist upbringing (three main differences that I see:  I believe in the ordination of women, I’m fine with drinking alcohol, and I support gay marriage), but I’ve always stayed in conservative Christian circles.  This only leads me to doubt whether I’m crazy to hold such seemingly disparate beliefs, even when my heart sings at their beauty.  And then I walked into a different building in the same city and…there were a bunch of people saying, “Uh, yeah, we believe those things too.  Where is the problem?”  I felt FREE.

But back to how an Episcopal service resonates so deeply with me.  The sermon isn’t the main point.  The high point of the service is when the leaders consecrate bread and wine, and then everyone fell to their knees at the altar and waited for the reverend to place bread in our hands, to help us drink from the communal glass of wine.  It was receiving Communion in such a childlike way that there was no possibility of believing I’d earned it.

The whole service was so rich and deep, like diving into the deep end of a pool.  Maybe that’s a little pretentious.  I don’t actually believe that there’s any inherent superiority to an Episcopalian or a Baptist service.  Some people worship through praise music and three point sermons, and some people worship through liturgy and repetition.  There’s nothing wrong with either, but wow does it feel good to be in a place that offers you your soul’s specific fast pass to God.


Podcast Recommendation List | PART 5

‘Tis the season…to recommend podcasts!  I’ve found a LOT of nerdy podcasts to binge-listen to, and I hope some of them will be of interest to some of you!

best-episode-ever1| Best Episode Ever

TV nerds discuss popular finished shows, deciding on best and worst moments, how the series has aged since release, and ultimately deciding the, you guessed it, best episode ever.  So far they have covered Friends, Adventure Time, and 30 Rock, so these are definitely my kind of podcasters.

948152| We Can Do This All Day

A husband and wife duo analyze Marvel superhero movies!  They’re both professional writers, so they bring a knowledge of storytelling to the show that elevates this beyond simply fangirling.  They also ran a lot of other podcasts together under the company Storywonk, and they are also well worth checking out!

eUny1NlQ3| Excelsior

Sadly, the aforementioned husband and wife duo divorced last year, so they no longer work together.  The husband joined two other people to continue analyzing superhero movies (now both Marvel and DC) in this podcast.

SASW-albumart4| Story and Star Wars

The divorced husband also runs several podcasts on his own, including this series analyzing the storytelling beats of each Star Wars film.  It’s nerdy and educational, and he’s also got ongoing series for Harry Potter (Dear Mr. Potter) and Lord of the Rings (There and Back Again) that I hope to get to soon.

1200x630bb5| Good Christian Fun

I am LOVING this podcast by two Christians diving back into the crazy Christian counter-culture of the ’90s and ’00s.  Sometimes scathing, sometimes fond, this podcast covers everything from Left Behind to VeggieTales to the OC Supertones.  If you listen through the entire episode, they have a running “What is the worst Christian song?” game to close that is a hilarious and horrific blast to the past.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Jesus’s Death is Meaningless without a Resurrection

I think this will be one of those blog posts that is seemingly obvious and perhaps overly nit-picky, but I want to share a detail that deepened my theology anyway.

My favorite professor at DTS was adamant that Jesus’s death was meaningless without his resurrection.  This is not a new idea, since Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 15:16-17:  “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  So far, so obvious.  But ever since it was pointed out to me, I’ve noticed how often faith is shared that focuses entirely on Jesus’s death.  It’s present in the songs we sing (from hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” to praise songs like “At the Cross”) where our joy and salvation is supposedly found at the foot of an execution instrument.  And it’s present in sermons and small group conversations where Jesus’s death is used as a shorthand to encompass his entire act of salvation.

Recently, a thought experiment dropped into my head.  Let’s say I am in a firing line about to be executed for my crimes.  A gun is pointed at me, and I’m crying and begging to be spared.  When the shot rings out, I am shocked to find that someone else has leapt in front of me to take the bullet in my place (in this scenario there is only one bullet in the whole world and therefore the punishment is over).  What is my honest reaction to this?  Yes, I would be momentarily grateful to still be alive.  But I would also feel grief that someone else took my place, rage at the incompetent executioner, and most importantly of all, GUILT.  I would forever feel guilty, knowing that my life had cost someone else theirs.

Now imagine that as soon as someone else takes the bullet for me and I fall over their body crying in shock and disbelief, they pop up, alive again.  “I’m alright,” they say.  “I took your punishment and an execution is recorded, but I’m alive again.”  What’s the prevailing emotion now?  JOY.  Now that gratitude goes on and on, and of course I’m going to want to follow that person around because of 1) their sacrifice and 2) their power.  But there’s no longer guilt, just joy.

I suppose that’s the subtle difference that makes how we speak of Jesus’s salvation so important.  When we disproportionately focus on Jesus’s death, we are emotionally cued to experience guilt.  But when his death is followed by resurrection, there is joy and freedom and grace.  It is very easy to start practicing this; just take an extra second to say “Jesus’s death and resurrection” every single time you talk about Jesus’s work of salvation.  It can drastically shape our view of God and our view of ourselves.  It did for me, anyway.

Transgenderism and Church Membership

On Sunday, my home church is voting to update its constitution, and if it is approved, I will no longer be a member of the church.

Here are the proposed changes to the section about gender and sexuality in full:

We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female.  These two distinct, complimentary genders together reflect the image and nature of God.  Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.

We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning and that is the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture.  We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.  We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and woman.  We believe that marriage ceremonies are Christian worship services that celebrate the covenant made between a man and a woman before God.

We believe that any form of sexual immorality, including but not limited to adultery, fornication, homosexual or bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography is sinful and offensive to God.

In order to preserve the function and integrity of [CHURCH NAME REDACTED] as the local Body of Christ, and to provide a biblical role model to the church as a whole and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by the church in any capacity, those who serve the church as volunteers, and all members of the church should abide by and agree to these statements of belief and conduct themselves accordingly.

Although I have many grievances with these statements, some as foundational as my basic belief in the church as a place of radical grace, I will vote against it for two basic reasons:

  1. I do not believe transgender or transexual people to be a “rejection of the image of God within that person.”
  2. I am deeply worried against qualifications of church membership extending beyond some few core Christian doctrines.

Is Being Transgender a Sin?

I have expressed my opinion on homosexuality elsewhere, but I have not yet expressed my theology of transgenderism.  The thing is, while I can see where Christians read the Bible and can come away thinking it is a sin (though I believe the issue is not so straightforward, again, see my other post), I do not see similar evidence against transgenderism.

To “reject the image of God” within oneself implies that God made you correctly and you are trying to change it.  I’ve heard that said explicitly, that “God doesn’t make mistakes.”  Except…he does.  Or at least, to avoid a theological minefield, because we live in a fallen world, babies are born imperfectly.  Babies are born without brains!  And in less dramatic cases, babies are born with irregular heartbeats, with blood diseases and cleft palates.  In each case, Christians affirm the goodness of doctors who do their best to “correct” the problem the baby was born with.

Lest one argues for a differentiation between physical and sexual issues, we cannot forget our intersex brothers and sisters who are born with both male and female genitalia.  God allows babies to be born who are neither exclusively male or female, and unfortunately, they are largely ignored in theology.  Such is the case for my church’s constitution, which leaves no room for their existence.

All of this is to say, my theology easily allows for a baby who is born with a gender that does not match its sex.  In every other case of a “problem of birth,” our cultural and spiritual answer is to do what can be done to fix it.  I see no reason for us to deny this privilege to men and women who were born into bodies that did not belong to them.

(If I have misrepresented the experience of transgender men or women, I ask forgiveness!  If you have the emotional energy, please know I would love to hear from and learn from you.)

What Doctrines Determine Church Membership?

For that issue alone, I would vote against these changes to the constitution.  But according to these same changes, my disagreement means forfeiting my church membership.  After all, “all members of the church should abide by and agree to these statements of belief.”  I don’t agree, therefore I no longer qualify to be a member of this church.  And honestly, if membership is determined by lesser doctrinal issues such as these, I’m not sure I want to be a part of such a church.

In my mind, belonging to a church naturally necessitates believing in core Christian doctrines:  that God is the Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God revealed himself most fully to us through the Bible, and that God offers us salvation from our sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  In short, church membership should be extended to those who read the Nicene Creed and say, “Yes, that.”  We can, and should, have opinions about everything else.  But to make anything else into a matter of membership strikes me as excessively legalistic and exclusionary.  So for this, too, I will vote against these proposed changes.

I know that in many ways, my beliefs do not align with my Southern Baptist Church’s beliefs.  But I have found such beauty and encouragement in the fact that, although our opinions might differ about homosexuality or the role of women in the church, we can still meet together as sisters and brothers to worship the God we agree is more important.  It is incredibly sad to me that I will be denied membership of this church if these changes are passed.  But looking at the evangelical culture around me, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

The Young Pope is Both Sillier and Deeper Than You Heard

How did a television show that featured a pope dressing in medieval garb while “I’m Sexy and I Know It” played in the background end with me sobbing at the beauty and hope of it all? This series combined giddy camp (the fictional Pope Pius XIII infamously looses a kangaroo in the Vatican gardens and often tests his spiritual powers by commanding it to jump) with heartbreaking humanity (the selfsame pope struggles throughout the series with his pain at being abandoned and orphaned by his parents at age nine).  Perhaps most beautifully, The Young Pope insists that both the giddiness and the heartbreak are necessary to tell a story about humans and their relationship to God.

This is a show about hypocrisy without condemning that hypocrisy.  Our titular pope is a tyrant, determined to return the Catholic Church to an isolationist stronghold that needs no one while simultaneously desperate for the approval of his spiritual father and mother.  One of the arguably few “good” men in the show is a cardinal who participates in a graphic threesome (this is an HBO show), and the unarguably best “good” man is a self-confessed alcoholic homosexual.  On the other hand, our worst men are never allowed to be fully villainized.  The Secretary of State, though a political weasel, genuinely cares for the Church.  Even the most odious of characters, a cardinal accused of pedophilia, is humanized in a way that does not condone his sins but demands our compassion all the same.

A running theme in the show is the fear that the pope does not, in fact, believe in God.  This is a fear that he himself admits to, but it is not meant to lead to mockery or scorn.  Instead, it asks viewers to consider questions of doubt and faith, saints and sinners, and whether God smiles upon us at all.  Faith is messy, and that is something our pope learns when his commitment to law without mercy has devastating consequences.  It is only when he accepts the mystery of faith that he is able to let go of his past and find peace at long last.

The Young Pope is a beautifully evocative and highly stylized ten-episode series, full of symbolism that is equal parts cheesy and stunning.  The acting is incomparable, and the whole thing is a work of art, inspiring emotion long before thoughts can be ordered.  It is a show of contradictions, offering its audience a unique opportunity to step into the mystery of life, of doubt, of faith.

We Live in a Beautiful World

I have been watching this video several times a week for the last month.  It is a fanvid about Black Sails that presents many of the show’s most tragic scenes building in emotional intensity as a woman sings “we live in a beautiful world” louder and louder over the chaos.  I have a tendency to start accidentally crying while watching, and while I’m sure a huge amount of the emotional drive comes from being intimately acquainted with these characters, I’m sharing it here anyway.

It is the visual embodiment of my theology.

A couple years ago, I was quite obsessed with the theme of hope found in The Lord of the Rings (especially here and here), and in particular, this quote from The Two Towers:

Sam: It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

Frodo:  What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam:  That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

This was particularly meaningful when I was emotionally preparing to move to Greece and to work in an anti-trafficking organization.  It was necessarily personal and a little self-centered.  I needed to find MY hope, the hope that would allow ME to choose the scary option and walk forward.

This video about Black Sails?  It’s broader.  I think it touches me so much right now because there isn’t a personal tragedy I’m working through – instead I am surrounded by other people’s tragedies.  Husbands dying, babies dying, hurricanes, white supremacists, mothers with post-partum depression, friends with undiagnosable illnesses, and enough people with anxiety and depression to remind me that for so many people, we live in a scary and overwhelming world.

And…we do.  We definitely do.  That’s why this video shows scenes of betrayal, heartbreak, violence, fear, and death.  But the thing that keeps me obsessed with this show, and with this video in particular, is that in the midst of this awfulness, there is an insistent theme that despite all this, “we live in a beautiful world.”

I think this is the most beautiful thing that Christianity offers.  Christianity says yes, this world is broken, and you are guaranteed to bleed when you brush against anyone or anything.  But Christianity says that inside that brokenness is beauty.  God created the world and it was good.  When it was broken it did not become evil, it just became a good thing broken.  And a thing that is broken can be fixed, which is exactly what God promises is happening and will someday happen in fullness.

So I cannot help but be overwhelmed by this video.  I cannot help but say, in hope, YES to the fact that we live in a beautiful world while watching destruction.  There is nothing that inspires me more than staring into something ugly and affirming the beauty that it was, is, and will become.  Christianity is a religion of paradoxes, and this is the one that touches me deepest.

The world is horrible, and we live in a beautiful world.

Where Is Your Heart? QUIZ

I was recently sent this prompt originated by A. W. Tozer that is meant to reveal what our heart invests in.  I’m a sucker for surveys and self-discovery, so here goes!

Rules for Self Discovery:

1. What you want most

I most want to live a stress-free life.  It’s exhausting to be anxious all the time.

2. What you think about most

Honestly, for the past month, Black Sails.  BECAUSE IT’S SO AWESOME.  But to break that down, that means I’ve been thinking about history and the potential for alternate histories, which makes me think of potential futures if only people are brave enough to unite with oppressed people groups and demand freedom for all.  I’ve also been thinking about queer relationships and what love really means, and how love can inspire people to the best and worst versions of themselves.

3. How you use your money

I save it!  If I’m going to spend money, it almost always goes toward travel.  I guess that means I value new experiences, broadening my outlook on life, and enjoying beauty.

4. What you do with your leisure time

I read and watch TV, because when I’m not living my life, I want to live as many other people’s lives as possible.

5. The company you enjoy

I enjoy people who are smart, thoughtful, and funny.  If we aren’t laughing while discussing all the ways we could change the world for the better, then what’s the point of hanging out (I’m being only mostly facetious)?

6. Who and what you admire

I admire talented people who use their skills to create beauty or unity or something unique.  I’m thinking Lin-Manuel Miranda level here.  But in my day-to-day life, I admire people who are creative and living life outside the norm as well as people whose perspective on life allows them to find joy in the little things.

7. What you laugh at

I laugh at snarky tweets, my cat running through his cat-tunnel, Try Guys videos, and…most things.  I like to laugh.

This exercise is meant to reveal the idols in your life, which is very uninteresting to me.  I used to think that when I loved something too much, I needed to get rid of it in order to prove (to God? to myself? to my church?) that I loved God most of all.  Now I think these things are gifts from God, and if anything, I should bring God into them and love them all the more.