Love Is Very Much Like Courage

A post from my amazing mom ❤

Serendipitydodah

Love is very much like courage, perhaps it is courage,
and even perhaps only courage. 
– Galway Kinnell 


The following piece was written by Meredith Indermaur.

Meredith is a member of Serendipitydodah for Moms, a private facebook group for moms of lgbtq kids, and like so many moms in the group, she has discovered that love is very much like courage.

courage...

Nearly ten years ago, a dear friend gave me a Willow Tree figurine for Christmas, as she does every year. In fact, she’s the one who got me interested in collecting the unadorned, faceless sculptures, and I’ve been hooked on them ever since. Beautiful in their simplicity, they have a childlike, innocent quality about them. They are striking on their own but stunning en masse. Each little figure represents something meaningful (like hope) or commemorates an important event in life (like a new baby). The angel…

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In Memoriam Billy Graham: Saint, Bigot, or Both?

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    Rev. William Franklin Graham, Jr. KBE (November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018)

In late February the world heard of the passing of Rev. Billy Graham, one of the world’s most famous Christian ministers since the Protestant Reformation. He was admired and adored by Christians of all denominations and creeds (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon), though he most notably made an impact on the growth of Protestant Christianity (both mainline and evangelical). My late maternal grandmother Anne Carter Webster, a devout Protestant Christian raised as a Missionary Baptist who converted to United Methodism upon marriage to my grandfather, spoke very highly of Graham. Her aunt Ruth Ragsdale Carter even worked for him. He was inspirational to many people of faith and his legacy lives on. Yet there are many, particularly within the LGBTQ community, who did not mourn his death, instead taking a sigh of relief. The legacy of the late Rev. Graham is a complicated one and his messages cause both rejoicing and suffering. Like any public figure, he was controversial. Just who was Rev. Billy Graham?

William Franklin ”Billy” Graham, Jr. was a Southern Baptist pastor from Charlotte, North Carolina. He was of humble origin, the child of a dairy farmer, and was raised in the Presbyterian faith. In college he became a Baptist and was ordained as a minister.  As a clergyman he was known for his outdoor rallies, radio sermons, and televangelism where he preached to billions of people worldwide.

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Billy Graham’s desk. Photo taken by my grandmother’s first cousin, Carol M. Highsmith, for the Library of Congress.

On a “crusade” tour to the United Kingdom he even inspired Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, with his plea to accept Christ as a personal savior and his simplistic spiritual messages. He saw God as a friend and comforter, something which can arguably often be lost in the staunch traditional culture of the Anglican faith (and similarly so in my Catholic faith). She awarded Graham with a knighthood in 2001, making him an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

He served as a spiritual adviser to United States presidents and provided spiritual counsel for all sitting U.S. presidents from Harry S. Truman (33rd) to Barack Obama (44th).  He was a staunch supporter of racial integration, insisting that all of his revivals and crusades, starting in 1953, be open to people of all races. He was a friend of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., bailing him out of jail in the 1960s after King was arrested for demonstrating against racial segregation, and even preached alongside him at a 1957 revival in New York City.

Graham meant a lot to Christianity, particularly American Christianity. His messages were often of personal responsibility, commitment, and devotion to God.

He was a registered Democrat, but often sympathized with Republican administrations (even meeting with Republican Richard Nixon, a Quaker, to assist him in his presidential campaign against the Catholic Democrat John F. Kennedy). He refused to join Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in 1979, later explaining:

“I’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left. I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future.”

For most Christians, Graham was an ideal example of how to live in faith; a saint. But, like any person, he was imperfect. And that imperfection contributed to the ongoing oppression of LGBTQ people by the government and the Church.

Rev. Graham regarded homosexuality as a sin, going so far as to describe it as “a sinister form of perversion” in 1974. In 1993 he said he believed the AIDS epidemic (as of 2018 over 22 million people have died from causes related to the disease) might be a “judgment” from God, but later retracted his statement. He openly opposed same-sex marriage and in 2012 he paid for advertisements supporting North Carolina Amendment 1, which banned same-sex marriage in North Carolina until it was overturned by the Supreme Court. To put it quite simply, Billy Graham was a homophobe. That’s not surprising, seeing as he was an ordained minister of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the United States. The SBC has preached and politically organized against LGBTQ rights since at least 1976. As a denomination they oppose same-sex marriage, blessings of same-sex unions, adoption by same-sex couples, ordaining LGBTQ clergy, healthcare for transgender people, legal recognition of transgender people, establishing gay-straight alliances in schools, and have promoted legislation that calls for discrimination of LGBTQ people in the workplace.

Graham was a product of the culture. Was Graham anti-gay? Yes, absolutely. Was he intentionally hateful? I don’t believe so. I believe Graham’s heart was in the right place but he allowed personal bias and ignorance to get in the way of compassion and mercy; a sin we all are guilty of.  I believe Graham was a devout Christian, with a longing to love God and to serve people, who fell short. He was ignorant of the Scripture that he had devoted his life to preach.

Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” – St. Jerome

A man well-versed in theology, he neglected to understand one key scriptural theme: unfailing love. Christ died for all of us. His love reaches all of God’s children, not just those deemed “worthy” of it by the Church. While Graham preached of Christ’s unfailing love, he seemed to forget that we are called to be like Christ and also have unfailing love for all people. So Graham was guilty of ignorance, and that ignorance has been translated into hate; paving the way for churches to justify discrimination, and even violence, against LGBTQ people. His stance has caused structural damage to the LGBTQ community, and been part of the backbone of the alt-right and conservative Christian movements against LGBTQ rights.

His legacy is tremendous. His writings and teachings will continue to be studied in seminaries, high school theology classes, bible studies, and even quoted from the pulpit for decades to come. But the darker side of his legacy also exists. His son and heir, Rev. Franklin Graham, is one of the most outspoken anti-LGBTQ preachers of our time. And it’s not just the last name of his father he carries on. He is currently president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a position he held even while his father was alive. His father never publicly condemned his obsessive anti-LGBTQ agenda. This hatred and violence is carried on in Graham’s name. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s website even promotes dangerous and destructive ideology like “gay conversion”, where if people pray enough the “gay can go away.”

What does this mean for someone like me, a Queer person of Christian faith? It tells me that I have a lot of work to do. It reminds me that often our spiritual leaders fall short and are wrong, and we must hold them accountable for their actions and their words. Because when they’re wrong, no matter their intentions, it can have catastrophic impact. As a Catholic, I think of His Holiness Pope Francis, praised by secular media for his “progressiveness”. Yet it was Francis, the “Who am I to judge?” Pope, who referred to same-sex marriage and adoption as a “destructive proposal to God’s plan” and called Gender Theory (the concept that gender identity is not definite and therefore can change) as “ideological colonization.”

LGBTQ people like myself are fighting a constant battle. Every day our existence is political. But it’s also spiritual. We belong in churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. We are a part of the spiritual communities and our existence is valid. Every time I partake in the mass I am making a statement not only about my faith but about my existence within the Body of Christ. The only way Christianity, and religion, can change is if we are a part of that change. Billy Graham was a devout man but he was also ignorant of the experiences of LGBTQ people. It is my job, and the job of LGBTQ people of faith and LGBTQ allies of faith, to squash ignorance and hatred with knowledge and love.

To put it in Billy Graham’s own words:

“I might know the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, but if I had not love, it would mean absolutely nothing in the sight of God.”

Let us be inspired by Graham’s death to have discussions about love and acceptance. And remember that not everyone who is an ally now, or even an out-and-proud queer person, always was. We are creatures of metamorphosis. Change comes from the heart. We can be that change. Speak up when you hear a friend or family member say something bigoted. Vote against discriminatory legislation and politicians who endorse it. Pray for justice. Act for justice. Check your privilege daily. Ask God to challenge you in your faith and break your heart open for other people. Hold yourself and others accountable.  Be open to learn and to grow. You never know who could teach you. Jesus has a way of surprising us.

Rev. Graham, I thank you. And I forgive you.

ab imo pectore,

Will

 

 

 

 

Patron of Love

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Roses, stuffed bears, balloons, boxes of chocolates, Hallmark cards, lingerie, champagne.. that’s right folks, it’s Valentine’s Day. You know, one of the most commercialized holidays of the year. And no matter how much we try to ignore it or remove ourselves from it by instead celebrating the ever-so-relatable Single Awareness Day or the shameless Galentine’s Day, it pops up boldly in our face ever year. There’s no fighting it.

All negative jokes aside, I really do love Valentine’s Day.  I have since I was a little kid. Let’s be real, what 7 year old fairy queen DOESN’T love everything pink and the fact that schoolmates are required to say nice things about you with cards and candy? It’s like a dream come true! When I was in either second or third grade I even left a [probably not so] anonymous valentine in my neighbor/crush’s mailbox. That poor boy probably never even got to see my fabulous handmade card before his parents threw it out. But for little me just the act of writing out my feelings and being bold enough to deliver them in card form to his house was a huge act of bravery, hope, and self-acceptance (something teenage me really could have used more of). I’m so darn proud of that little kid. Sometimes I think I was more fierce as an elementary school kid than I am now. You Go, little Wilhelmina, setting the world on fire and all!

But that’s really why I love Valentine’s Day. It may be another aggravating Hallmark holiday like Christmas and Easter but, just like these secularized holy days, it has a deeper and more spiritual purpose: to love. And I’m not just talking about buying your spouse diamonds or taking your romantic fling to a 5 star restaurant. Courtly love is a beautiful part of the human experience, but love goes much deeper than romance. I’m talking about self love. I’m talking about loving thy neighbor. I’m talking about sacrificial love.

Valentine’s Day is actually Saint Valentine’s Day, a historic Christian feast day celebrating the lives and commemorating the deaths of two early Christian martyrs: St. Valentine of Rome and St. Valentine of Terni.  Very little is known about the historic saints’ lives, and many stories have combined the two persons into one, but legends have made St. Valentine’s Day the popular holiday of love it is today.

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Saint Valentine

The Feast of St. Valentine is an official feast day in the Anglican and Lutheran liturgical calendars (that’s right- some Protestants celebrate saints too!).  Eastern Orthodox Christians commemorate two St. Valentines (of Rome and of Terni) on July 6th and July 30th. The holiday was originally also an official feast day within the Catholic Church, having been added to the General Roman Calendar in 496 C.E. by Pope Gelasius I. It was removed from the Catholic calendar in 1969 but St. Valentine continues to be a venerated saint within the Catholic faith. His name remains in the Roman Martyrology, with masses still dedicated to him on February 14th as long as no other holy day or obligatory celebration falls on the same day (as Ash Wednesday does this year. I know, awkward. A day of abstinence on the same day as romantic love. Irony at it’s finest).

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Skull of St. Valentine in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome

Some argue that the tradition of courtly love’s association with St. Valentine has to do with the ancient Roman fertility holiday Lupercalia (also called dies Februatus, from which the month of February gets its name) celebrated on February 15th. This may not be untrue, as syncretism of Catholic and pagan beliefs and practices has been common throughout Christianization as a way for the converted (and often colonized) to maintain their cultural heritage (as seen in Haitian & Louisiana Voodoo and in Latin American Santería), for Christian minorities to celebrate their faith without risk of persecution (especially Christians in the pre-Christian Roman Empire, as St. Valentine was), and for Catholic missionaries to make Christianity relatable to pagan populations they were attempting to convert (the shamrock clover, Christmas tree, Legend of St. Nicholas, Legend of St. Bridget, and Legend of St. Lucy are all examples of stories and symbols missionaries used to connect with pagan peoples in order to explain Christianity to them in a way they’d identify with).

The only facts known regarding Saint Valentine is that he was Christian priest who was martyred in the third century and buried by the Via Flaminia. Of the many legends regarding St. Valentine, there is one that tells of a Catholic bishop of Terni who healed the sick, including a blind daughter of a Roman prison guard whom he met while imprisoned for practicing Christianity in pagan Rome. There is another that tells of a man martyred for trying to convert Emperor Claudius to Christianity. But perhaps the most popular, which may link this holiday to courtly love, is a story of a priest who was sentenced to death after having been caught secretly performing weddings during a ban on marriage imposed by the Emperor as a solution to a military recruitment crisis.

This last legend resonates with me. I can’t help but think of St. Valentine as a patron to those whose love is forbidden by government, particularly LGBTQ people. While same-sex marriage may be legal in the United States, people can still lose their jobs for marrying their partners here like this first grade teacher earlier this week. Adoption for same-sex couples is also a tricky rode to navigate. Even in “progressive” Europe there are legal restrictions. As a citizen of Switzerland, if I chose to get married some day it would be invalid (a decision that parliament is voting on this year). Not only romantic love is made hard for us by culture, religion, and law. With institutions like conversion therapy still legal, we are not even allowed to love ourselves. Self love is a radical form of resistance in the LGBTQ community. St. Valentine’s efforts (whether historic or legendary) show us that we have an ally and Heavenly intercessor. His alleged devotion to serve those with forbidden love is a mirror of the sacrificial love Christ has for his flock, and that includes LGBTQ people. So cherish today not as a day of cheap teddy bears and liquor-filled chocolate covered cherries but as a day to spread love and compassion. We need more love in this world, especially now.

But just in case you need a little boost for finding a life partner (I’m right there with y’all), you can send a prayer to St. Valentine or one of the other patron saints of love, St. Anne and St. Raphael the Archangel. Never hurts to ask 😉

ab imo pectore,

Will

 

 

 

 

[Holy] Friends in high places

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We’ve all heard the outcry from Protestant and Evangelical Christians “Catholics worship saints!“, and we’ve seen the [annoyed] Catholic Apologetic’s answer “No, we just honour them!”

Here’s the thing, we do worship them, but we also don’t. I sound crazy? Well, it all has to do with the word “worship” and it’s meaning.

But before I dive into that, let’s talk about what a “saint” is.

Saint, or Hallow, quite literally means “holy.” Modern usage, particularly among Protestants, denotes practicing Christians (both living and dead). Catholic usage refers to a person who is in Heaven. We believe that all people (and angels) in Heaven are saints, regardless of canonized status by the Church. Canonized and beatified persons, those whose lives have been deemed heroic or virtuous by the Church, are celebrated in the liturgical calendar with feast days. You’ve probably celebrated a saint’s feast day without realizing it (St. Patrick’s Day, St. Valentine’s Day, Boxing Day, Halloween). Many canonized saints also serve as patrons over specific regions, countries, peoples, institutions, professions, ailments and struggles that relate to their lives and/or legends. This means they look after people in these countries, professions, etc. and intercede on their behalf to God for aid, grace, and mercy.

Saint Lucia of Syracuse is the patron saint of the blind, Saint Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of Germany, Saint Christopher is the patron saint of safe travels, etc, (for a list of Saints and their patronage, click here).

It’s a common practice for infants, upon baptism in the Catholic Church, to be given a Christian name (the name of a saint). When receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation many Catholics chose a personal patron saint, adopting that saint’s name as an additional middle name. My confirmation saint is Saint Luke the Evangelist.

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St. Lucia of Syracuse allegedly had her eyes gouged out before being martyred

Saints are looked to as role models and our siblings in Christ; inspiration for us to overcome our struggles and to help us through troubling times. While, ideally, Christ is the ultimate role model, Christians believe he lived a sinless life as one of three persons of the Triune God. Sometimes it’s hard to identify with a perfect person. Saints, unlike God, are not perfect in any way. Many were known sinners (St. Augustine of Hippo) or even put to death by members of the Church (St. Joan of Arc). They, like us, are humans born into original sin. Their virtue comes from Christ. They, like us, were imperfect but sought justice, love, and goodness. One day we may be saints too.

Makes sense? Great! So let’s break down what it means when people say Catholics “worship the saints”.

The word worship (from the Saxon weorthscipe) means [to give] honour. The term has never been exclusively used for devotion to a deity. Certain elected officials within the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly Lord Mayors, are addressed as “Your Worship“, similar to the address “Your Honour” we give in the United States to justices of the peace or the style “the Honourable” for various government officeholders.  Throughout history and into modern day, monarchs, religious leaders, government officials and members of the nobility are worshiped in this way (Your Holiness, Your Eminence, Your Majesty, Your Highness, Your Grace, Your Excellency, Your Lordship/Ladyship)

Worship in a spiritual sense is divided into three types: Latria, Dulia, and Hyperdulia.

Latria, from classical Greek, meaning “the state of a hired servant”, is the first form of Christian worship. It was originally used to honor the Greek gods but also those dedicated to their service. With the Christianization of Europe, this term eventually became equated with Adoration, or worship and supreme honour to God alone. It had been used interchangeably to refer to servants of God (saints and angels), but a distinction was made by St. Augustine of Hippo between worship of God and honour given to saints and angels. (City of God X.1) Therefore, Latria is an act offered to God acknowledging His supremacy, perfection, dominion, and our dependence upon Him. Catholics perform this type of worship by celebrating the Mass, receiving the Sacraments, performing selfless acts of charity, fasting, practicing private devotions, and in Eucharistic Adoration.

Dulia, the second form of Christian worship, is honour paid to the saints and angels. Through Dulia, Catholics honour the saints for their devotion to God, acts of charity, suffering, and personal sacrifice. Dulia includes veneration and invocation. Veneration (which can be given to saints themselves or objects associated with them (icons and relics) is the praise and admiration of a saint for their holiness. Invocation is the petition to a saint for their help.  Catholics pray to the saints, but not in the way we pray to God in adoration. We believe in the Communion of Saints – that is- those on earth are united with souls in purgatory and in Heaven through our baptism and the grace of God.  While we pray for our brothers and sisters on earth, we also pray for those suffering in purgatory, and ask that those in Heaven (who are freed from worldly torment and temptation, and are closer to God) may also pray for us. We do not believe that saints grant miracles on their own merit. Everything a saint does comes from God. For example, if you are ill you may pray to St. Raphael the Archangel for God’s healing; if you have lost something you may pray to St. Anthony for help finding it; if you are a parent struggling, you may pray to St. Monica for guidance. The saints then, in turn, make prayers and requests on your behalf to God.  Veneration is then paid in return when these petitions have been granted. Veneration may take the form of prayers or offerings of flowers and candles before a statue or icon of the saint. In the Litany of the Saints Catholics ask individual saints by name to “pray for us.” To put it simply, we are connected by God’s amazing grace.

Biblical arguments for saintly and angelic intercession have been made from various passages including Jesus’ warning not to offend small children because their guardian angels intercede on their behalf to God in Matthew 18:10,  the Rich Man’s plea to Abraham to send a messenger to his brother’s house in order to warn him of suffering in the afterlife in Luke 16:19-31, the elders falling down before the Lamb of God holding bowls of prayers in the forms of incense in Revelation 5:8, and the angel presenting prayers upon the golden altar before God in Revelation 8:3-4.

Hyperdulia, the third form of Christian worship, is honour and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom Catholics venerate as the Mother of God, Mother of All ChristiansQueen of Heaven, and Mediatrix of All Graces. Mary, a human and not divine, was chosen by God to be the bearer of God. She differs from other saints in that we believe she was sinless, but not by her own merit. We believe she was Immaculately Conceived (meaning upon her conception God prevented the stain of original sin from reaching her) so that Christ could be borne from her womb. We believe that she was a Perpetual Virgin whom virginally conceived Christ and, at the end of her life, was assumed body and soul into Heaven. As such, she is venerated in a higher degree than the other saints but is not adored like God. We invoke her protection and intercession through popular devotions like the rosary. One of the most popular prayers of the rosary is the Hail Mary, which ends with:

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

Even our love and devotion to Mary is Christ-centered. I once read a poem that depicted Mary as the Moon and Christ as the Sun. We admire the moon for it’s beautiful light that shines in the darkness, but the moon’s light is not its own. It’s a mirror of the sun, reflecting the light. So we see Mary as a reflection of Christ’s love for us.

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His Holiness Pope Francis gesturing toward a statue of Our Lady of Fátima during her feast day celebration in St. Peter’s Square

In the House of David, the Queen was not a wife of the King. The Queen was the mother of the King (Bathsheba was Solomon’s mother and Queen, Naamah was Rehoboam’s mother and queen, Maacah, was the mother and queen of Abijah and grandmother and queen of Asa). Since Jesus is from the House of David, we view his divine kingship as Davidic, and therefore Mary is Queen. In this way we honour her and ask for her love, protection, and intercession not as a saviour but as the Mother of Our Saviour.

Because of her role as an intercessor to Christ, we believe she has appeared to people all over the world throughout the course of history to deliver important messages from God. Believing in Marian apparitions is not a requirement of the Catholic faith, but most Catholics accept the apparitions. While there have been hundreds of reported apparitions that are supported by local dioceses, the Vatican has only officially declared Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fátima, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of Laus, Our Lady of La Salette, Our Lady of Pontmain, Our Lady of Beauraing, and Our Lady of Banneux as worthy of belief.  Although not given papal recognition in this way other alleged apparitions (Our Lady of Knock, Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Medjugorje) are often widely accepted as worthy of veneration.

WHOOO! I know that was a lot of reading. I hope I’ve clarified some misunderstandings that Catholics and non-Catholics alike have had about saints, prayer, and worship in the Catholic faith. My goal here is to help Catholics express their faith, non-Catholics to understand our point-of-view, and for all of us to realize how much we actually have in common. Dialogue – it’s important y’all. ‘Till next time!

ab imo pectore,

Will

Marching Forward/Dodging Bullets

It’s healing to write my thoughts and experiences in a constructive way. I’d like to take this time to say that it’s okay to take a personal hiatus. I had a lot going on the past couple of months with teaching, travelling, ballet rehearsals and performances for The Nutcracker and Unto Us A Son, and practices, events, and game performances for the Federal Hockey League cheerleading team I dance on. Sometimes in order to stay sane I have to take a break, and at that time my writing is what I chose to put to rest for a while.  Although therapeutic, at times it’s stressful. That being said.. I’m back!

In light of the news stories regarding sexual harassment and the anniversary of the Women’s March, I’d like to talk about the every-day harassment and violence faced by genderqueer, gender non-conforming, trans, and other LGBTQ folks as we often are left out of these conversations.

A few months ago I was walking through the mall with some friends from work to get our nails done and go New Years Eve outfit shopping (needless to say we looked SNATCHED dancing in 2018 surrounded by the beauty of New Orleans). After we passed by the food court, my friend turned to me and said, “It makes me so mad when people stare at you and say things, I don’t know how you deal with it.”

I responded, “The two older men in the food court? I just ignore it.” She was surprised that I had noticed yet continued to walk as though nothing had happened, having been under the impression that I was oblivious to the situation.

But my response wasn’t true. I don’t “just ignore it.”  I can’t. I live in it. Every single day. The stares, the finger pointing, the insults, the cat-calls, the judgmental whispers, the inappropriate questions, the physical threats, the stalking, the sexual advancements.

                                          “I don’t know how you deal with it.”

… I have to.

The fact of the matter is that I am at risk every time I walk out of my front door. I have to constantly be aware of my surroundings in order to survive. I’m an outgoing, adventurous person but being out in public can be stressful. It’s something many of my heterosexual and cisgender friends seem to forget (or not even realize) when we go out to restaurants, bars, or clubs. I don’t have the privilege of navigating through public space as safely as most of my friends.

This kind of awareness causes anxiety, stress, depression, self doubt, and fear. So every day as I blend my rouge, apply my lipstick, draw on my eyebrows, fasten my earrings, and strap on my heels, I do so fully aware of the bricks the world plans to throw at me. I dodge bullets every day in the form of words, looks, and thoughts. Sometimes I get followed to my car, or even to my neighborhood. Other times I get thrown out of public restrooms. And I am not alone in this war. So many people experience this regularly. And it’s worse for LGBTQ people of color. Be aware of the struggles we go through because of our differences. Queerness transcends socio-economic class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, physical ability, mental ability. We exists in all corners of the world in all margins of society and we aren’t going anywhere.

We aren’t here to entertain you. We aren’t here to be your fantasy. We aren’t here to be your glamorous sidekick, your token friend, your punchline, your secret behind closed doors. We are here to live.

How I dress is not a costume. How I act is not a character. I am a human being trying to navigate through life and make the most of the hand I’ve been dealt. Same goes for my siblings in queerness.

What can you do to help?

Don’t be part of the problem. Speak up for LGBTQ people in every day situations. Be aware of our oppression. Have our backs. Check in on your LGBTQ friend more often. Give them a call, send them a text, take them to lunch. Ask us how to help, we will tell you.

Let’s keep fighting to make the world a safer, more loving place.

And to my LGBTQ warriors,

Keep fighting the good fight. Live your truth. Pursue your dreams. Remove negativity from your life. Practice self-care. Love yourselves.

cheers

Cheers to the new year! Let’s make it a year of radical love and safe spaces.

#lovewins

ab imo pectore,

Will

Not an object. Not a fantasy.

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We’ve all been there, right? Cat-called from a car on the street, gawked at in public, or sexualized by complete strangers. Objectification is an ongoing problem especially for women and LGBTQIA people. We are constantly “other-ed” into sexual and physical fantasies instead of being seen, at least immediately, as human beings. We’ve all been there.. or have we? Do you know what it feels like to be harassed, even in the seemingly friendliest-of-situations?

I express my gender in a fairly unique way. I’m very feminine. I wear make up, heels, and use handbags. I cherish the jewelry I’ve collected over years and wear pieces I’ve inherited from my grandmothers proudly. I sit at my mirror and apply bronzer and rouge as if I’m creating a painting: an expressive experience. I’m not attempting to transform into a character; I’m being Will. It’s not an act or a game. It’s not a performance. This is me. I feel most myself when I am this way. I am artistic, creative, complex. There are other people like me  (specifically within the ‘T’ and ‘Q’ spectrum of ‘LGBTQIA’) but society has done little to recognize our legitimacy so far. Being genderqueer/gender non-conforming isn’t so complicated to express, but it sure can be difficult to navigate in rigid heteronormative structures, especially dating.

I’ve been single for the past few years, which has certainly allowed me to grow as an individual person and discover my wants and needs.  And while being single has it’s perks, I hope for a long-term relationship. In a way, I desire a very heteronormative future when it comes to love. I’d like to get married one day and have children. This isn’t always so for many LGBTQIA people. The concept of marriage does not appeal to a lot of people who view the institution as oppressive or not fully encompassing the sexual and emotional human experience. I understand and stand up for my queer brethren who express love and sexuality outside of these institutions, but I still want this for myself. The problem is that I’m not taken seriously.

blandwood3                                                            Living my life at a Derby party

Sometimes it’s by a stranger in passing. They’ll say “you look gorgeous!” and then quickly recant their words and offer a new statement, “You’re so handsome!”… I’m wearing a jumpsuit and lipstick. Do you really think I look handsome? Sometimes it’s a text from a potential date “Well, I prefer you with facial hair.” Well, I don’t.  My expression is rarely recognized as authentic. I’m seen as a spectacle, even by friends. Constantly being referred to as fabulous, fierce, “out there”. These words can be compliments but more often than not inform me that I am not seen as a real person but as an object for entertainment. My body is real. My soul is real. I’m a human with ideas, hopes, and dreams. I’m not an accessory to glamorize your life or a potential hookup to fulfill some strange fetish you have.

I am attracted to men – er – to masculinity. Cisnormative? Yes, I know. But I cannot help that’s what I want. I can’t say that this attraction is reciprocated in a way beneficial to me or my circumstance. Gay men are usually just as confused by me as straight men are. I’ve dated gay men who express their desire for me to behave and present myself in a more masculine way (don’t wear make up, wear men’s clothes, don’t shave, etc.) and these conversations oppress me. They confine me to a cage where I am set to play a role not made for me. Then on the flip side there are straight men, many of whom have expressed their desire, but cannot seem to grasp the fact that they find me attractive. This is where I am fetishized the most. I do not want to be anyone’s weekend secret or evening fantasy. I want to be a partner.

Life as queer is difficult to navigate, not because of our identities and expressions, but because of the limitations set on us by other people. So before addressing someone who doesn’t fit within the gender binary or a heteronormative role, remind yourself that they are valid just as you are. See us as people. We breathe and love and feel just like you do. And we deserve love and respect, just as you do.

ab imo pectore,

Will

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the closet, Into the world

Closets. Mine is a jumble of shoe boxes, sweaters desperately anticipating cooler weather, and boxes of unpacked items I cannot seem to find a place for. In the literal sense it’s just a tiny room. But metaphorically it’s a fortress. A safe haven. A prison. A maze.

I was seventeen and a rising junior in high school when I came out to my parents. I awoke early one July morning and left a long letter I had written the night before on my mom’s bedside table. Then I left for New York City.

It’s been eight years since then, and so much has happened in my life. I’ve finished high school and undergrad, been through various relationships, lost and gained friends, became a professional dancer and a teacher. And you know what? None of it would have been possible had I not thrown open that closet door and ran out.

I grew up in a large, loving family. I was a child who loved to draw, dance around the house in blankets, and play pretend outside with my older sisters. When I was a preschooler I accompanied my mom to a friend’s house for tea, spending hours in her sitting room staring into her glass menagerie admiring the sparkly splendor. I was completely captivated by it’s beauty and femininity.  It’s other-worldliness. I knew I was a part of it. I remember being so aware of myself back then. I dreamed of being a cat, a princess, a ballerina, a fairy. I didn’t realize that society had a different plan for me until I grew a little older.

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My sisters and me (age 5) in Switzerland. This was before my two brothers were born.

We were very religious and traditional. Church and Sunday school every week. Prayers before bed and every meal. Family dinners every night of the week. Scripture readings at the dinner table during Advent and Lent. A children’s bible rested on my bedside table, and was opened every night to provide me with spiritual bedtime stories. For many LGBTQ folk, this kind of upbringing was horrifying. They feel the oppression of the Church and are outcast as abominations by their families. I was lucky. I was born into a family whose hearts would be broken open. And they opened up for me.

While my family and I’s relationship with the Church has been a complicated one, I still hold my faith deeply in my heart. I may not attend mass every week, but my Catholicism is as every bit a part of me as my sexual orientation and expression of gender. Getting to this point of accepting all these aspects of my identity took some work, and some inspiration from my family.

When many people first meet me, I often hear how they admire my confidence, my lust for life, or my optimistic enthusiasm. I’ll admit- I’m a bubbly person, and quite often a goofball. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a dark side, or a dark past, within a bubbly exterior. I’ve been attending therapy on and off since childhood. First for anxiety, and later for depression. At 17, after I came out to my family, I was diagnosed with severe depression and was placed on a heavy dosage of antidepressant medication. I saw my therapist more than I saw my friends. My lows were low. And while I never went through with taking my own life, I confess I planned to more than once.  My saving grace was my family and church.

Before I came out to my parents, I attended Student Life Camp, a religious (and from what I remember, rather Pentecostal) conference in Tennessee with a United Methodist youth group that I was a part of. While there I came out to my friends and youth leaders. They prayed for me, hugged me, cried with me, comforted me, and made sure I knew they had my back. And they did. Youth group was a release for me. I felt I could be myself there, I didn’t have to act for anyone. I even had a youth leader who became a mentor for me, calling me if I had a fight with my parents, bringing me lunch at school if I was having a bad day, and introducing me LGBTQ friends and colleagues, so that I could see that there was hope for people like me. It was during this time that prayer became a normal part of my life in a sincere way. I wasn’t asking for myself to change, I was asking that the world would.

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                           Family photo while vacationing at Figure Eight Island

And while my parents, siblings and I had our ups and downs, as any family does, in the end they have been my greatest support system. I have a younger brother to thank for saving my life; simply because he wanted to play with me. My parents taught me what family is. And I thank them for showing me the good and the messy sides of our’s. They are my greatest role models. I have seen the advocacy work my parents and siblings do, and the unconditional love they pour out for all minorities and oppressed peoples. I am so grateful to have them. And I realize that this is a rare privilege.

The majority of LGBTQIA youth do not have the same family life that I have. Many are poor, homeless, thrown out. A large number don’t survive coming out because they don’t have the support. And my heart breaks for them every day.

So know that I am with you. If your family casts you aside, mine will take you in. You are my family. There is so much love for you. So that is why today, National Coming Out Day 2017, I urge you to open that closet door, put on your best pair of heels, and seize the day. If you stumble, I will be there to lift you back up.

ab imo pectore,

Will

 

 

 

 

Day 303- Robert Indermaur- The Theater of Man

A blog post I found on my grandfather’s cousin, the Swiss painter Robert Indermaur

Day of the Artist

It’s Day 303 and I’m feeling slightly under the weather…hopefully it’s just allergies and not a cold or flu…I have shows coming up that I don’t want to miss!  My friend Jon told me about today’s artist and lent me a book of his and I love his work.  It was really challenging finding much information on him online AND it was difficult to paint in his style…but it was very inspiring and thought-provoking.  I love the images and people he portrays.  Join me in honoring Robert Indermaur today!  I did find a small biography on his website.

Robert Indermaur Robert Indermaur

Der Kuckuck 1981- Robert Indermaur Der Kuckuck 1981- Robert Indermaur

Robert Indermaur

Born 1947 in Chur / Graubünden.

I went to school in Chur until completion at the Grisons teacher seminar in 1967.

In the following years I was traveling with friends across Europe, Asia and Africa.

In between, I taught as a primary school…

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A Day of Shouting

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As I made my way to work this morning, I drove by my neighborhood synagogue, noticing the crammed parking lot and rows of cars pouring out onto the street but not giving it much thought as I navigated my way through the chaos. When I got to my school, I was greeted by a student who was ecstatic over the apple cake he had for dessert at his “fancy dinner” the night before. When I asked the occasion he exclaimed, “The new year!”

Ah, of course! It’s Rosh Hashanah.

Celebrating the new year is a sacred time in many cultures. We reflect on the life we have lived and make decisions on how to continue for the future, always hoping to improve.  The Jewish New Year is a time of remembrance, prayer, and preparation for the most sacred holiday in Judaism: Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The name Rosh Hashanah comes from the Hebrew רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה‎, meaning “beginning the year“. The traditional name for the holiday, Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה‎), means “day of shouting”, due to the blasting of Shofar horns in remembrance of God’s sovereignty over the children of Israel.  

                       A man blowing a shofar horn in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah. 

So why should Catholics, and all Christians for that matter, care about Rosh Hashanah? The most simple explanation: it’s Biblical. The Book of Leviticus presents a conversation between God and the prophet Moses regarding the holy day:

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall present the Lord’s offering by fire.”

– Leviticus 23:23-25

This custom predates Christianity and is a part of our spiritual history – a fact that is often forgotten in Christian circles, particularly with the continued rise of White Nationalism and Neo-Nazism in the West. While the Church and Judaism have had a complicated and complex relationship over the past millennium, we both worship the God of Israel, El Shaddai; therefore, to be antisemitic is to hate God, Himself. Christ was Jewish, born into the House of David and a descendant of Jesse. Christianity is forever linked to Judaism, and without it we would not exist. It is a bond which can never be broken. We are siblings who share many beliefs, scriptures and customs, often without realizing just how similar we are. We must learn from the faith which gave us our own.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of Adam and Eve, reminding us that we are children of the same God.

While I strongly discourage appropriating a holiday that is observed by a specific group of people who has experienced thousands of years of violent oppression, I encourage all Christians to use this holy time to find unity with their Jewish brethren and reflect on how both faiths are connected. We can express our devotion to God and our love for His people together. Attend a temple service with a Jewish friend, family member, or neighbor.  Read the scriptures, observe the Sabbath, pray, and ask questions. Use this opportunity to grow in your faith.

 

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.” – Act of Contrition

The third sound, the Teruah, is a reminder to live honestly and to evaluate our lives with clarity, alertness, and focus. It’s about past, present, and future. It’s about where we come from and what we’ve done, who we are, and where we are going. The Talmud says, “When there’s judgment from below, there’s no need for judgment from above.” What does this mean? We are responsible for our actions. Just like with Shevarim, I am reminded of the Sacrament of Penance. When we kneel in the confessional and admit our transgressions before God and the Church, we are evaluating the life we have lived. When praying the Act of Contrition, we call to mind where we are at present and what we are striving for in the future. In the assignment of penance by a priest, we are given the tools to build the future we long for in goodness, truth, and love. Teruah is asking us to admit our wrongdoings and have a change of heart so that God does not judge, instead showing mercy and extending grace. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, for we were not immaculately conceived like the Virgin Mary, sparred from the inheritance of original sin, so it is in our very nature to mess up. We are not angels, so we fall short in our free will by ignoring our conscience. We are not God, therefore we are flawed. It is not about failing or succeeding but about honesty. As long as we recognize our shortcomings, make up for our transgressions, and constantly strive to be loving, compassionate people then we are living justly. God wants us to be honest with ourselves and one another. Faith is a journey, just like life. We will stumble, but we have the ability to get back up and move forward.

In conclusion: Live authentically. Love unconditionally. Serve at every opportunity. And find the unity in diversity.

I wish you all Shanah Tovah!

 

ab imo pectore,

Will

 

Cafeteria Catholicism: It’s not a buffet

I am sure by now many of you have heard what Former White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon had to say in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ condemnation of Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). As a Catholic I was appalled. As an American citizen I was embarrassed. But despite my initial disgust, I took a step back and mulled over what was said. In that moment I realized he had a point, although not the point he intended.

A little back story on DACA: The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an immigration policy that was established by the Obama administration in 2012 that allows undocumented people who came to the United States as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and also establishes eligibility for a work permit. There are approximately 800,000 people, known as “Dreamers”, who are enrolled through DACA. The Trump administration has announced plans to rescind the policy within the next six months.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ condemnation of Trump’s decision comes as no surprise to anyone with basic knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching.

So why did Mr. Bannon, who is Catholic,  feel compelled to state the following,

“The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? Because unable to really – to come to grips with the problems in the church. They need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s – it’s obvious on the face of it. They have an economic interest. In unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.”

I know. Hard to digest, isn’t it? But look at what he followed up with:

“As much as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine. This is not doctrine at all.”

The second quote helped me process the cringe-worthy one proceeding it. Bannon is mistaken. He sees the Church’s fight to protect immigrants, especially undocumented people, as a political and economic move and not one of doctrine. But here’s the thing, it is doctrinal. The Church’s teachings on immigration reform have been written in various encyclicals. Encyclicals are expressions of the Magisterium of the Church and are, therefore, doctrine. And not only is it doctrinal, it’s Biblical. Check out Jesus’ own words from the 25th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Caring for those less fortunate than us is central to the Catholic faith, and is at the root of Christian teaching.

I realized then that this isn’t the real problem that Mr. Bannon, perhaps unknowingly, was calling to light.  It’s that we pick and chose who matters. 

While I was in undergrad, my priest at the nearby parish gave many a homilies condemning so called “Cafeteria Catholicism”. He said that as Catholics, we cannot pick and chose what teachings to follow and what doctrines to believe. That’s living faith on the easy road- and it bears no good fruit. Our faith should constantly challenge us. Our faith is radical.

Mr. Bannon was wrong about the Church’s moral obligation to protect undocumented people and fight for immigration reform. But he was right about one thing; the Church picks which battles to fight based on economic and political interest, just as we often do in our own personal practices.

Just as the Church calls for us to uphold dogmatic and doctrinal teachings, we must call on the Church to do the same. We see the removal of humanity from LGBTQ people, women, the poor, the refugee, and many marginalized and ostracized groups. The Church’s relationship with these communities is a rocky one. While the Church is quicker to protect the unborn, the poor, and the immigrant it is not as quick to recognize that within these groups are people that are outwardly condemned by the Church. We like to think of the Church as prolife, but does the Church kneel to help LGBTQ people who have been thrown out by their families? Does the Church kneel to help a child who, for years, was abused by a clerical leader? Does the Church take responsibility for its own shortcomings and faults?

Let us seize this opportunity to stand with our immigrant siblings and recognize that by doing so we stand with people of all races, religions, genders, orientations, and expressions. Instead of focusing on what divides us, let us see our diversity come together in the unification of all people through Christ Jesus, who erases our barriers (including gender and national boarder) and makes us one (Galatians 3:28). We are a complex and diverse peoples, but are we all people. Just as the Trinity is complex and diverse, but is still One God.

The Church teaches that all humans are deserving of basic rights and dignity, and that in Christ we are all one; children of the Father. There is no gentile nor Jew. No man nor woman. There is but one in Christ Jesus. It’s time we call on our bishops to uphold that.

ab imo pectore,

Will