jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that


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In Praise of Anger and Disruption

Two years ago today, I was kicked out of church.

At the time, it was devastating. I was newly out, vulnerable, and needed the people who said they loved me to actually love me. To love me more than they loved their dogma.

Instead, I got called a lot of things. Angry. Divisive. Disruptive.

I was thinking about these terms recently, and how gendered they are. Oh, maybe not on the surface, but let’s think about how they’re used:

When men are called angry, there is usually violence involved.
When women are called angry, they are often just standing up for themselves.
When a man speaks up, he’s seen as assertive.
When a woman speaks up, she’s disrupting the ‘real’ conversation.
When a man challenges church dogma, he gets an entire denomination named after him.
When a woman does it, she’s told to go home.

John got his head chopped off for challenging the authorities. Jesus flipped tables. Peter preached that the old rules were nonsense. Paul insulted people to their faces. We’re taught to praise them.

I have often wondered what it was about me that made the men in charge take such a hard line. There were, and remain to this day, queer people in that church. They range from suppressing their sexuality to quietly going about their queerness. They get to stay.

It’s funny. My coming out was done in a public Facebook post, but I timed it carefully. I posted it on a Sunday afternoon to provide the maximum interval between that and the next time I was due to stand in front of the church body with a microphone in my hand. I worked to minimize the disruption. I didn’t talk about my sexuality in church. And during the five or six weeks when the elders were trying to decide what to do about me (and interrogating me about my sex life and so on), I kept pretty quiet, tried to be respectful.

By then, I had developed a habit of attending church board meetings. On occasion, I would speak up. Once, I said something they didn’t want to hear (a thing that was borne out, as it happens). I was already a disruptive woman. My coming out was self-assured. Over and over the pastor or an elder would say, “You said you don’t want to debate this,” as if it was rebellious of me to be firm in my beliefs. I was a strong-willed woman. Oh, if I could have a five dollar bill for every time I’ve been called strong willed in my life, I wouldn’t need student loans.

Men are never called strong willed.

The ultimatum given to me two years ago included another option. All I had to do was agree to never speak about my queerness or my affirming theology, anywhere, at any time, to anyone. I just had to be…a silent woman. An obedient woman.

The real problem, I have come to believe, was that I was a woman who wasn’t contained, constrained, ruled by men. I didn’t even need a man in my bedroom!

They were scared of me.

I sometimes wonder what I’d be like if I’d been allowed to stay. I’m far more liberal now, both politically and theologically. I used to be very concerned with right and wrong and good and bad, and now I see the world in greyscale. I sometimes wonder if they ever think they might have at least kept me from going completely off the rails, and I laugh and shake the dust from my feet.

Two days ago I sat in church and listened to a sermon given by a woman who is married to another woman. Her sermon began, “I am really angry.”

Praise be to God.

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This Post Is All About Sex

Sometimes, when I don’t write, it is because there are too many things swirling around in my head, and not enough time, peace, and quiet to line them up and make sense of them. But I’ve been snowed in much of the last week and blizzards give you time to think.

And I’ve been thinking about sex.

pear butt

When girls have that cute dimple above their butt.

This is not nearly as fun as it may sound, but stay with me here. What I’ve been pondering is how sex is positioned by the church, by society, and by myself, and what the consequences of each have been.

As a kid, though I was rarely in church, I absorbed the knowledge that sex outside of marriage was A Very Bad Thing. I was committed to abstinence until marriage long before Joshua Harris ever pondered the subject, and several high school boyfriends dumped me because I wouldn’t go all the way. (I’ve got no regrets there, BTW. High school boys. Pfft.)

I had also absorbed the understanding that as the woman, I was the gatekeeper. It was my job to fend off any boy’s advances. That a man would only be a gentleman to the extent I required it. That a healthy man will always want sex, and a smart woman will channel that into marriage. You know…sell her cow for a good price.

In retrospect, I can see this for the train wreck it would inevitably become.

I ended up unmarried and pregnant in high school. And so ashamed. I will never forget the day one of my dearest friends passed me a note. In it, she told me how disappointed she was in me. She hasn’t spoken to me since.

I dropped out of school, married my boyfriend (not a high school boy), had that baby, had another baby, and, you won’t be surprised, divorced not long after.

Then I spent a very long time trying to be a Very Good Girl. And I mostly was, doing the whole just-love-Jesus-so-much-that-some-man-will-fall-in-love-with-the-Jesus-in-you thing. That could be a blog post of it’s own, let me tell you. Suffice it to say, this didn’t work well for me. Possibly because men couldn’t see past the poor single mom thing to see the Jesus within me. Possibly because they weren’t turned on by deep emotional turmoil. Also possibly because I’m not that interested in men.

ANYWAY.

I was mostly a Very Good Girl. And then I realized that I am actually a Very Queer Girl and that it’s fine and dandy to be a Very Queer Girl and then I had to ponder what that meant about sex. Suddenly, sex was not just putting a penis into a vagina. Sex was this giant, grey, amorphous blob, and a piece of my identity-that piece that was proud to have only ever had sex with one man, like, EVER-was gone. It had been two men (gasp). I thought. It was hard to tell now that my black-and-white world had become grey-on-grey, the straight lines blended into oblivion. I had flashbacks to the Bill Clinton years.

And I had more shame. And no one to talk it through with.

One thing embracing queer culture will do for you is point out patriarchy. You know how, as a kid, you think your family is normal and other families are variations on normal and then you grow up and you realize that actually, your family was pretty weird? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. When you stop viewing couples as a man and a woman, stop viewing families as a mom and a dad, suddenly you realize that the way we do things is often super weird and nonsensical. Like division of labor in the home, and who asks who out on a date.

Immersing yourself in queer culture makes you think, because queer people–especially, in my experience, those of us who are also people of faith–have to break everything down and build it back up, thinking carefully about each piece before putting it back in place. Maybe they put it in a different place. Maybe they throw it out entirely. But man, do they THINK about it all. It’s an incredibly good learning experience.

And it’s made me think a lot about sex, and about marriage, and about sex and marriage. And, like I had to really delve into those passages of scripture that have generally been applied to homosexuality, I’ve had to ponder whether the passages generally applied to sex are being dealt with accurately. Are they prescriptive or merely descriptive? A reflection of God’s will or a reflection of the culture in which they were written? What are the individual pieces that my sexual ethic is built from, and do they really fit together the way I thought they did?

I haven’t entirely worked through this yet, but here are some of the building blocks I have taken down and examined (I will leave much of the discussion of the harm purity culture has caused to others for the moment, but trust me, that’s also a thing):

*The usages of ‘one flesh’ throughout Scripture overwhelmingly point to the developing of a new family/primary kinship, rather than sex.
*The Evangelical view of ‘one flesh’ being about sex equates Christ’s relationship with the church with the physical act of PIV sex.
*That’s pretty disturbing.
*There seem to be several veiled but positive references to premarital sex within Scripture.
*A culture of abstinence prior to marriage is unattainable (did you know that in late 1700’s New England, 30% of women were pregnant at their wedding?!)
*By viewing sex as All About Marriage, marriage becomes All About Sex.
*This is an extremely low view of marriage.
*Consequently this is a very low view of Christ’s relationship with the Church.

What if marriage, rather than being defined by sex, were defined by working out our love for others, learning to live harmoniously and selflessly, giving and receiving support, partnership? What if sex were not a commodity with which to buy commitment, or the fire that commitment is forged upon? I think there might be beauty there.


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Sodom and Gomorrah: A Cautionary Tale

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as told by the Evangelical cautionchurch: Homosexuality was so rampant there that God burned it to the ground! I’m sure you’ve also heard the parallels the Evangelical church draws between that story and modern day: Homosexuality is so rampant in the US that God sends catastrophic weather events and also the general demise of culture to punish us and if we don’t hold the line, God will burn us to the ground, too!

This is, of course, hogwash. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah was never about homosexuality, or sex at all for that matter. The men of Sodom didn’t want to have sex with the travelers, they wanted to rape them. And rape is not about sex, it is about power. Sodom’s sin, according to the Bible, was that they had no love for their neighbors.

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49 (NIV))

I was reminded the other day of these passages, and the Evangelical penchant for drawing parallels between them and modern-day life, and I thought I would try my hand at it. Ready?

Imagine, if you will, a small church in a medium sized town. The leaders, all white men of course, are mostly good people with mostly good intentions. There have been some changes recently, and change is frightening, but they think they can guide their community through the rough waters, if everyone stays in the boat and nobody rocks it. They really do see themselves as servant leaders, and might not notice that they treat the church as their kingdom.

One day one of the members of this kingdom, a woman, says, “Hey, I noticed that queer young people don’t seem to feel comfortable in our church, and I worry about them. I spent a lot of time studying and thinking and praying about this and I think we might have been wrong all this time. Also, I’m queer, too.” She doesn’t ask for a platform, doesn’t ask for policy changes, she just talks about her own journey, and she does this in her own spaces.

The leaders are concerned. They use words like ‘divisive’ and talk about how things might change one day but they cannot change now, not on their watch. The woman is clearly viewed as a threat to their kingdom (although she cannot figure out why), and they decide she must go. She asks how making someone leave isn’t divisive, but it is clear that to them, ‘divisive’ means ‘different.’ If they make the woman leave, nothing and no one will be different.

It does not seem to occur to them that to have harmony, music must have more than one note.

The woman leaves, broken, suffering. But she’s an outsider now, no longer their responsibility.

We know that Lot was not an evil person (although try telling that to his daughters). Have you ever wondered why he stayed in Sodom? He clearly knew how the town treated visitors, for he tried to rescue them before the danger was even apparent. But Sodom was wealthy, and if they stayed wealthy by mistreating their neighbors, well, that was the trade-off for a life of comfort. Lot tried to mitigate this when he could, but wasn’t willing to make himself uncomfortable to do so.

The woman rebuilds her life. She finds a new community. She is loved and she thrives. And a year later, she receives a report from the little church kingdom that exiled her: It is dying. The people have trickled away, taking their pocketbooks with them. “If people keep leaving, we’ll have no money to pay a pastor!” the leaders say. And then, “You must think carefully and pray hard before you decide to leave, too.” The woman ponders this announcement. She remembers how carefully she thought and how much she prayed. She remembers how little that meant to the leaders. She remembers how no outcome of thought and prayer mattered to them if it wasn’t the outcome they’d pre-determined to be acceptable.

She remembers how protecting their little kingdom was more important than loving their neighbors. More important than loving her.

I don’t know why so many people have left my former church. I have intentionally not kept in touch with the vast majority of the people there, and I haven’t asked questions of those people I do still talk to. But I am not surprised at this news. They are not heeding their calling to love their neighbors, and thus have become chaff. But I am also not gleeful about the situation. In fact, I would be overjoyed to see true repentance and a revival of love sweep through there. But if they cling as stubbornly to their dogma and the status quo as they did before, then metaphorical fire and brimstone and pillars of salt seem quite fitting.


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The Guilty Bisexual

It’s Bisexual Visibility Day and I’m here to share some things.

Those of us who are bi+ make up more than half of the LGBTQ+ crowd. This makes sense if you recognize sexuality as a spectrum because more people will fall in the middle than at either end. But simultaneously, we’re often forgotten, or even disparaged. And we’re certainly misunderstood.

So, bi erasure is a thing. A big thing. And while it feels terrible and even sometimes makes me angry, I’ll be honest: I contribute to it. You see, on any given day, in real life, if sexuality comes up, I’m more likely to say I’m gay or queer than to say I’m bi. The reasons for this are numerous: People understand gay, but often become confused about bisexuality. Bi women are hypersexualized (I’m not here for your threesome fantasies, thankyouverymuch). Far too many people assume being bi+ also requires being non-monogamous, and I’m actually super monogamous. Too many people still think bi peeps are into the false gender binary. It just all gets very complicated.

And, I find it impossible to imagine myself in a relationship with a man. Oh, I find some of them physically appealing, I just don’t like who men tend to be in this culture. I spent decades trying to date, and that’s a thing I don’t need to do again. So it’s easy to reduce my identity to my function: I only date women, so I’m gay.

But every time I say that, aren’t I hiding a piece of who I am? Just like when I let the world think I was straight? I say I value truth, is that the case even when the truth is complicated? I say it’s important to claim labels because labels bring solidarity. Isn’t that still true? Don’t I, in a sense, owe myself and my bi+ siblings the affirmation that comes with proclaiming my identity?

These are the things I struggle with. So today, I’m wearing my Bi shirt. This week, I’ll retweet all the bi visibility things, revel in the pink-purple-blue color scheme, and remind myself every day of who I am. And perhaps this week of kinship will bring me strength.

ww

An important reminder: Wonder Woman is bi+


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Finding Ourselves in Fiction: One Mississippi

(note: some of what I discuss may be considered spoilers)

I will never not be sad that One Mississippi has only 12 episodes.

If you aren’t familiar with Tig Nataro, my advice to you is to call in sick to work, cancel all your social engagements, order some Chinese takeout, and begin streaming all the things.

One Mississippi is fiction, but it’s based on Tig’s real life experiences with breast cancer, the death of her mother, and her relationship with her wife, among other things. As you can imagine, there are some dark themes running throughout. The show is quite serious about them, but it is also full of humor and laughter and love.

There is so much about this show that delights me, from the shared misery of navigating dating and romance as a queer woman* to Tig’s relationships with her brother and stepfather. (Her stepfather’s life could serve as an entire show on its own.) I’ve watched it twice through and will never tire of its understated humor.

There is, however, once annoyance: bisexuality doesn’t exist in the universe of One Mississippi. Even though multiple characters are clearly bisexual, the word is never used once, and instances of being attracted to multiple genders are greeted with confusion. The very idea of being bi+ is so foreign that a chief storyline involves one character repeatedly insisting she can’t want a romantic relationship with Tig because she’s “not gay.” While simultaneously falling in love with her, and spending her nights watching “The L Word” and drinking wine.

Bismuth

What happens when a chem major is bisexual? Yeah.

More than half of queer people identify as bisexual (or pansexual or non-monosexual, etc.). Ignoring the existence of bi+ identities leads to the very confusion that people experience when they find they’re attracted to more than one gender that the abovementioned character experiences. One Mississippi could have done a great service for the queer community by exploring this idea, but instead it reduced each character to being either Gay or Not Gay.

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful show and I cannot recommend it enough. (Be aware that there are some adult themes, a set of fake breasts, and various profanities throughout.)

*Dating women is both easier and more difficult than dating men, in my somewhat limited experience. I have no explanation for this, and can only surmise that being bisexual gives me the power to violate the laws of both physics and reason.

 


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A Little Sermon for Pride Sunday

I was asked to share my story for the Pride Sunday service at my church. This is the text of what I said.

Good morning. A lot of you don’t know me, because I’ve only been attending here since February. For over a decade, I attended another church here in town. They said they loved me, and I think, in their own way, that they did. They became my second family, and I don’t say that lightly. I helped deliver three of the children running around their nursery this morning.

A few years ago I began to notice that the kids in the youth group who didn’t fit into the heteronormative, gender-binary box were disappearing. I never heard the youth pastor preach on the topic, never heard the other kids make disparaging comments, but clearly these kids didn’t feel like they belonged. And that concerned me, because these are the kids most at risk for abuse, exploitation, and suicide. These are the kids who most need family.  I wondered how we, as a church, might better help them.

At the time, I still bought into Side B theology.  Side B people agree that sexual orientation can’t be changed, but they believe that same-sex sexual relationships are wrong. At the time, if asked, I referred to myself as “mostly straight.” I even had a number: 95%. And that 5% of me that liked women was kind of interesting but didn’t really matter, because obviously I was never going to act on it, right?

Side B theology and my desire to better serve the queer people in the church became a rock and a hard place. Those are very difficult things to reconcile. God loves you and you are fearfully and wonderfully made, except this one part of you, which you need to spend your life hating, but that’s okay, because we’re going to come alongside you and support you in hating it. It was tightrope I couldn’t walk.

So I went to an old friend, someone I’d met in a Conservative Baptist church, who while serving as a missionary in Mexico had shifted from Side B to Side A, which affirms same-sex relationships. I asked her how she reconciled her new viewpoint with the Bible. Specifically the New Testament, I said. That mattered to me. I wasn’t entirely unreasonable, after all. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she and her husband had been vilified, had their church support removed, and were still going through all kinds of issues because they had become affirming. She was, understandably, on the defensive, and she asked me why I wanted to know.

I explained my concerns about the kids in youth group, and then added, “Also, I’m bisexual.” I think that was the first time I used the word “bisexual” in reference to myself. There are those who shun labels, and I get where they’re coming from–we don’t owe the world a definition of who we are, and labels can make us feel boxed in–but there is also power to be found there, power in staking a claim to who you are, and power in the community of those who share that label. I think I was able to tell her I was bisexual because I knew, I didn’t agree with her theology yet, but I knew she was safe. I knew I was safe with her.

Assured that my intentions were honorable, she gave me a list of resources, and I spent the next few months studying and thinking and praying. In the beginning, it was mostly studying and thinking. But as I was studying and thinking, as my eyes and heart were opened, I began to pray, “Lord, if I am wrong, if I’m heading down the wrong path here, show me!” I was being drawn to an affirming theology by the joy and freedom and life that it gives, and it was exhilarating but frightening. Two people I was closest to, my best friend at the time and my younger son, were also unnerved by the journey I was going through, as I talked my way through it with them. My friend, especially, tried hard to slow me down, but that was a losing battle. By the end of August, I was convinced.

The LGBTQ crowd seems to fall into two camps: Those who are quietly queer, saying something only when necessary, and those who are obnoxiously loud about their queerness. I’m the obnoxiously loud type. So, my next task was to tell the world. Facebook seemed the most efficient method of doing so, so on September 3rd of last year, I made a set-to-public post.  It began:

“After much study, prayer, and contemplation, I have concluded that homosexuality is compatible with biblical Christianity. And although I embarked upon this journey for other reasons, this conclusion also has personal significance: I am bisexual.”

It also included:

“I am the same person you knew and loved yesterday. I hope you will rejoice with me in the freedom I have found, and join me in hoping freedom, grace, and love abound.”

Some of the reason I was so public about this was that, to me, it was very good news! I was full of joy in who I was and who God was, and it was good news for me and also for others. But I wasn’t naive. The day before I posted this, I sat down with one of my dearest friends, the one I worked closely with in my capacity as head of the music ministry. I made sure he knew everything I knew, in case I disappeared. I still worry that the pianos haven’t been tuned.

Sure enough, I was removed from my ministry position before the following Sunday, and banned from any participation other than showing up to Sunday morning services. I wish I were making this up, but the pastor actually said, “When a police officer shoots someone, they’re put on administrative leave while an investigation is done.” I was left wondering who I’d shot.

The elders, all men of course, convened a meeting to interrogate me about everything from my sex life (they wanted to know if I was living up to the bisexual stereotype) to why I’d come out so publicly. They were very concerned about what I might do or say in church. It was hard not to laugh at that, because I have yet to find a set of queer worship songs.

So I told them about the studies that show that exposure to images of fat people being active reduces anti-fat bias by combating the internalized and false idea that we’re lazy.  And how statistically speaking, the people most likely to be racist are those with the least exposure to people of other ethnicities, because their bias isn’t challenged by reality. I explained that my task, as I saw it, was not to stand up in front of the church and say gay things or sing gay songs, it was just to be myself, and if knowing me, a queer person who was also a Christian, challenged their bias or changed their hearts, then that would be a beautiful thing.

I should maybe not have told them that. After several weeks of meetings both with and without me, they came back with three options:

My first option, the one they were really hoping I would accept, was to return to my former Side B theology.

If that was not possible, they also gave me the option of agreeing not to speak of my Side A theology in OR OUT of church.

And if I could do neither of those things, then I was no longer allowed to attend church there.

Well, option 1 was impossible. Option 2 would violate my conscience. And so I left.

I’m supposed to be telling you why I haven’t abandoned my faith and the church entirely, and Chuck will be happy to know I’m getting to that part.

I’m going to reread this morning’s text: “As God’s partners, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return–I speak as to my children–open wide your hearts also.”

Polls show that the number one attribute assigned to Christians in the United States is being anti-gay. It’s what we-the global church-are known for. This church-versus-gay dichotomy was not invented by queer people, but by the loudest voices from inside the church. And my very existence as a queer Christian is a challenge to that false binary. I make people uncomfortable. I’m okay with that. What I could not do, what I cannot do, is let those loud voices define my identity and the community I’m a part of. For too long, I was not allowed to be queer because I was a Christian. I will not now give up being Christian because I am queer.

“There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.”

I have been greatly blessed to be here at this church. You have been balm for my wounds. I want to thank you, and also to challenge you. I am here because this church made it obvious that I would be welcome. In the last four months I have seen again and again that you have successfully built a bridge that joins queer and straight Christians such that we are walking and working side by side, and it has brought me joy. Don’t stop. Don’t stop building bridges. Don’t stop seeking the image of God in people who are not like you, not like us. Remember that we have more to learn than to teach. Bridges go both directions! Let us look around, and let us open wide our hearts.

Jesus loves you


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A Word to Homeschool Moms in the Age of Trump

I homeschooled my kiddos. The reasons were myriad but it came down to this: it was the best choice for my kids, my family.

We’d do anything for our kids, wouldn’t we? We sacrifice time, money, careers, privacy, decades of our own lives and wishes and needs. We put up with the rude comments, the scoffers, the “well-meaning” family members. Why? We would do anything for our kids. Anything to give them what they need to succeed in life. The day I handed my youngest kiddo his diploma was one of the proudest days of my life.

I can think of no group better suited to understand an immigrant bringing their child to the United States. Above anyone else I know, homeshooling mamas should recognize the love that drives a parent to extraordinary lengths. And above anyone else I know, homeschooling mamas’ hearts should hurt for the parents and babies coming to our borders for help and being torn apart.

Have you hailed as heroes those moms who homeschooled “underground” in the early days, until they won the fight to legalize it? Did you proclaim the US should grant asylum to German families whose homeschooled kids were taken away from them? Have you refused to follow your state’s homeschool law because it’s government interference in your parenting, or cheered those who have done so, or worked to ease requirements? Do you talk about religious liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the autonomy of the person and the family?

Then you can understand. You can understand the parents who bring their babies here in the hopes of giving them a better life. You can understanding parents who want to protect their kids. You can understand that red tape is hard to navigate, and that the law is not always the primary consideration (though I will note that US asylum regulations require you to get here by some means, legal or otherwise, to request asylum, leaving these parents no choice!). And you can understand the horrific injustice of separating these parents from their kids, of forcibly institutionalizing the children in any way.

I would-and have!-risk my life for my kids. I would-and have!-risk my future for my kids. I know you would, too. I know you’re a fierce lioness guarding the gates of your kids’ future. And I’m calling on you to come alongside these immigrant moms, in all your fierceness, and help them do the same.

beach babies