On Coming Out as an Ally

Photo courtesy Creative Commons by Stephen Chapple

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing — Edmund Burke

To be an ally and not use my voice means I am only a witness.

Both allies and witnesses are needed to change the cultural arc of our times. People witnessed the foundational shifts MLK brought to our country with race relations. It undoubtedly impacted every person who witnessed it. Yet without allies advocating for the cause of justice and full inclusion for every African American in this country, the tide of prejudice would have remained staunchly entrenched in the fibre of our country for decades longer.

To be an ally means to advocate and join your voice WITH those being marginalized or refused full integration and inclusion in an organization, an event, or a society.

Marginalized individuals are marginalized precisely because they have been denied rights, freedom, full inclusion and their voices have been TAKEN AWAY. Their voices, their very identity has been discredited and oppressed.

Without allies from the group that has participated in the marginalization, the tide of cultural practice will never change. 

So today is my coming out day in full support of LGBT rights, inclusion, and participation in every segment of society and especially in our churches. My silence is not helping and I may even be harming LGBT individuals. I no longer want to participate in the further marginalization of sexual minorities.

So today is my line in the sand. I can no longer support:
– Restricted inclusion in organizations based on sexual identity, expression, preference, or orientation
– Devastatingly harmful conversion therapy, counseling, or religious counseling approaches that believe that being LGBT can be “changed”
– Dehumanizing practices, language, and structures that keep the marginalization of sexual minorities in place

It may cost me something to be an ally. 

I’m ok with that. It has cost other people so much more. Their cost has become my freedom. Jesus went to the cross because of his love for the marginalized and oppressed as well as those who were doing the oppression. He did this because people are inherently worth the cost it sometimes takes to love them.

One of the stirring revelations for me during my week at the GCN was the depth of sacrifice LGBT individuals have experienced to hold on to their faith. As John Pavlovitz so aptly says, “Their faith has really COST them something.” LGBT individuals have often been shunned by BOTH sides, yet they chose to still love a church who has rejected them.

When, as a white, American, heterosexual, college educated, middle class woman have I EVER been asked to sacrifice like that for my faith? When have I ever been persecuted, rejected, or abandoned for a faith that I have been forced to hang on to only by tips of wounded fingers or broken fingernails? When have I ever been maligned for being an abomination or cast-aside for something that I did not chose and could not pray away? When have ANY of us experienced this?

Yet a faith that is real comes at a cost. 

I can no longer simply be a witness to what is happening around me with the LGBT community — even if it costs me something — I’m choosing to be an ally.

THEY are worth it. YOU are worth it. My prayer is that I can offer a voice to the conversation and be a part of the healing that needs to occur around this. I do not want to speak for you, but WITH you, shoulder to shoulder…

3 Simple Ways To Make Transitions Easier | Guest Post

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons by myfriso

I love sharing my blog space with people I respect and admire. Makeda is one of those people. I talked about her here because she was the mentor who has helped me navigate this past year.

Makeda is an expert in helping people move through transitions. I asked her to share a little wisdom with us on what she recommends. Her post is below…

***

3 Simple Ways To Make Transitions Easier

We are in the time of year when lots of transitions are happening. We have just transitioned from one year to another. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere you have just transitioned from Spring to Summer. And we in the Northern Hemisphere have just experienced the transition of the Winter Solstice, the time of year when the period of darkness is longest.

Though technically it will get lighter as the days progress through January, it will be awhile before we can truly feel like we are experiencing more light than dark.

Transitions can feel an awful lot like the Winter Solstice.

Transitions are hard. Transitions in times of darkness can feel even harder because it can be so hard to see the light while faced with so much darkness. The change is necessary, we know this but moving through it is no less difficult for its necessity and sometimes the necessity makes it even harder.

If you are navigating a change of some sort, I want to share with you three things you can do to help make getting through this time a little easier.

1. Let Go of Other People’s Expectations

Everyone is going to have an opinion about how you should behave. Everyone will want to give his or her two cents about what you should or shouldn’t do. While you are navigating a season of change, it is critical that you hear your heart clearly so you can move through the change with integrity. Too often, other people’s voices are so loud it is impossible to know what is real and what is imaginary.

You have to let go of worrying what other people might think, feel or say about you. Not everyone is going to agree with your decision but they don’t have to agree, they only have to accept it. If they can’t accept it then you may have to make the difficult decision to change the role they play in your life.

If other people’s expectations are allowed to drive your decisions during this season, you will move through this time more slowly or worse, you may find yourself getting stuck. You have to do what feels most right for you and hold onto that regardless of what anyone else things about it.

2. Know What’s Yours to Carry

There will be loss and gain during this season. You will have to let go of some things, including some familiar things, in order to step into your new space. Cultivating a new normal is part of this process and in doing so you will have to question the assumptions and beliefs you now carry.

Ask yourself if that truth belongs to you or did you inherent it from someone else? If it’s yours then carry it but if, in fact, it came from someone else then releasing it will be the necessary thing for you to do.

Beliefs and mindsets can feel like they belong to us but if we can get into the habit of questioning the stories we tell ourselves, we may discover that what we owned as a truth is not actually true for us. Don’t be afraid to question what you think to be true. You may freedom in the questioning.

3. Get Support

No person is an island. We are meant to do life in community with others, not in isolation. Trying to move through a life transition, big or small, without support is a recipe for disaster. You are inviting more heartache and sorrow if you try to do this alone.

Surround yourself with people who can be FOR you during this time. Be open to the possibility that your support system may not come from the people or places you would expect. Transitions can create new connections so stay open to that possibility too.

Most of all, reach out for help. Get really clear about what you need and then ask for that help. Try to avoid deciding what people can or cannot do for you and simply ask them for what you need. Listen to your intuition for guidance on who to ask and then reach out to them.

I don’t know what transition might look like for you right now. But whatever that is I want you to know that you will come out the other side of this. It might be dark right now but it won’t stay dark. The sun always comes up in the morning, even if the clouds don’t part the light still penetrates the darkness and I know the light will find it’s way to you.

Hold tight to that assurance and you’ll make it.

From my heart to yours,

Makeda Pennycooke

 

keeds Makeda is a Women’s Leadership Mentor and Coach. After spending too many years letting other people’s opinions decide how I should live and lead, I am now committed to empowering women leaders to redefine leadership on their own terms. In my spare time, you might find me curled up with a book in my favorite recliner; wandering around in pursuit of beauty behind the lens of my camera; or attempting to further my budding relationship with yoga. I believe chocolate makes everything better and life should be filled with the moments that make your heart sing. I love the ocean, sun-kissed days, and a steaming hot cup of tea (always tea, never coffee). I can be found sharing tips and inspiration for women leaders at www.makedapennycooke.com

 

***

If you or someone you know is interested in being coached by Makeda, I highly recommend it! Contact her at her website to learn more!

One Word 2015 | With

Photo courtesy of Creative commons by Stux

With.

This is my One Word for 2015. It started bubbling up in my heart in late fall and I’ve been noodling on it ever since.

It’s such an odd word and could have so many connotations.

With other people.
With myself.
With God.
With a desire, a feeling, a thought.
With my creativity.
With my words.
With my fears.

WITH implies being in the middle of something and fully engaged.

I like that because I have an all-too-common habit of being physically present but emotionally unavailable. This year I want to change that bad habit of checking out, or checking into the not-yet-available-future as an escape from present moments, or of missing a moment that could change me if I am willing to stay WITH it.

In light of the trajectory that I have started down in trying to build bridges between evangelical Christianity and the LGBT community, it is my hope that being “With” communities that have historically remained embattled will enable me to be a redemptive light and a revelatory mirror that can help both sides enter into safe and encouraging conversations.

Knowing the difference that my friends have made in the last year by remaining “With” me as I walked through my second divorce has helped challenge me to find ways to be more present “with” each of them. Seeing how remaining present “with” my pain helps me to process through it gives me courage as I seek continued healing this year.

“With” is a powerful, present reality that I can bring into my life. 

When I look back on the last 5 years of participating in the #OneWord communities (OneWord365, MyOneWord, and this year GetOneWord), the discipline of choosing a single theme, and dedicating myself to filtering life through that theme has been life changing. These words have been prayerfully chosen, though their revelation is usually instant and happens around the dying leaves of each fall or incoming winter.

2010: Newness & Kindness
2011: Wonder (Enter “Faithfulness“)
2012: Risk
2013: Joy
2014: Balance (Didn’t blog much last year apparently!)
2015: With

Some years I’ve been more focused than others on committing to and seeing my word. Other years I have dreaded the word (enter Risk and Joy). In the end, seeing God’s faithfulness through the theme’ing of my years with One Word has kept me committed to the process.

What is your OneWord for 2015? 

When the Foundation Shakes

Photo Creative Commons by Villalonga

This season continues to be a season of foundation shaking.

Theology. Praxis. Relationships. Vocation. Nothing has been left untouched.

I’ve started to climb out of the black hole punched into my existential foundation in early fall.

I’m now asking questions, researching, and refining my teleological bent. I am exploring areas of my heart, life, and story that I’ve kept hidden or buried for decades. It’s amazing when you begin to voice parts of your identity that have remained buried, how this very “speaking-into-being” can radically shake the known foundations you have lived upon for 44 years.

The faith part of my story has always been there. I am a huge supporter of what I believe the church can do to facilitate freedom in an individual’s life.

The part of my story that I have buried while navigating my faith environment is the fact that I am the child of gay parents. As this is a pivotal part of my story, I have a choice and a role that I can play in advocacy with the LGBT community.

What these two divergent stories look like pieced together is not something I have discovered yet. I’m still on the journey. The stories are currently rubbing together like two tectonic plates attempting to make space for each other. Where each will land, and which story (if either) will become primary, I’m not yet sure. I desperately want to separate them again like they were before — to keep the LGBT part of my story safely ensconced apart from the church so my story can’t (and I can’t) be hurt again.

But I believe in the heart of the church too much to go backwards.

What I do know, is that as I reveal this part of my story to those in my direct faith community, I have been met with support (rather than condemnation or answers), and my questioning has been welcomed. It is inherently frustrating for strategy-loving-me not to have answers for my “what if’s” – but simultaneously comforting to know those around me are willing to engage in the conversation even if there are no obvious solutions.

It’s uncomfortable to ask these questions that I have long buried. It’s uncomfortable to try and fit FAITH and LGBT Advocacy together in a sentence. It’s uncomfortable not to know what is next. It’s uncomfortable to think that I may make mistakes, or hurt feelings, or stir the waters as I ask difficult questions.

It is UNCOMFORTABLE to step out of the boat, then look back at those sitting in the boat realizing that I’ve made it rock as I’ve risked taking a step. 

My discomfort makes me want to scream “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to make the boat rock! I just needed to ask some questions.” I want to steady the boat again and forget that I just took a step out onto the water. I want to make the boat calm for everyone again so they know they are safe. I want to let those in the boat know that my questioning is never meant to hurt anyone, or cause them discomfort.

But the most uncomfortable thing of all is to think that I could live the rest of my life and bury this part of my story and not ever step into the fullness of who God has created me to be. Every time I bring more of who I am, more of my full story to the table and share it with others, I feel more free, and I feel more ME.

And at the end of the day, I have to believe that what God has said to me again and again is true…

<<Whatever happens daughter, I Am WITH you>>

 

 

When the Holidays Suck

Photo Creative Commons: fincayra0204

It starts right before Thanksgiving and feels like the slow creep of cement hands grabbing at the back of my heels. No matter how fast I run into holiday activity, the rough and hardened grip finds my ankles and slows me down. It pulls at my knees and constricts my belly. It wraps around my heart, traipses up to my shoulders with long-lanky hooks to weigh me down. My face becomes obliterated in its darkness, my eyes turn leaky, and I have to remind myself to breathe.

There are some years when the holiday season sucks the life out of me.  

This is threatening to be one of those holidays. Understandably so because it is the first holiday season of single-hood in six long years. This is a year of a new-normal for me.

But still.

I tried to put my Christmas tree up this weekend… the tree that was at the ex’s house because I didn’t have enough space in my tiny apartment to store it… but it made me tired, so I stared at my tree in the corner willing the twinkle lights to twinkle. They never did.

I attempted to watch the Macy’s parade this weekend… but I couldn’t get through all of the “He went to Jared!” engagement ring ads. I turned off the TV and stared at the blank screen instead.

I focused on filling the formerly-occupied-space-on-the-couch-next-to-me with dates or friends or pugs, thinking that will dull the ache, but it just served to emphasize what is missing.

Nothing.is.working.

So I grit my teeth, put my head down, and push through the holidays with a grunt rather than a cheer. I acknowledge that the anniversary dates of last year are apparently still coming and I resolve to face them as they come. I resign myself to the life-I-didn’t-think-I’d-be-leading at 44 years of age and hope for a better holiday season next year.

Courage to Confront Desire

Photo sourced from Creative Commons

Photo sourced from Creative Commons.

Finding the courage to be honest with myself about what I want has required great bravery.

  • To be honest about WHAT I want, instead of projecting those desires onto someone else and relinquishing ownership of my own feelings requires courage.
  • To be honest about WHO I want or don’t want in my life, instead of the usual self-sabotage I practice in relationships requires bravery.

After a lifetime of letting others make choices for me, define my feelings, tell me what I want, or subjugate my desires to circumstantial-survival needs or the holy requirements of a “higher power,” being able to answer the question “what do I want” is like climbing Mt Everest.

Even if I manage to identify a desire, the second challenge I have is labeling what the heck it is! My body often sends signals that a desire is looming… anxiety, despair, excitement, tension, expectation, but I’m not always sure how to decipher it. And the teaching I’ve received feels woefully inadequate for practical instruction.

  • The CHURCH acknowledges desire exists, but the vast majority of discipleship has to do with quieting desire.
  • SOCIETY teaches us to blindly follow desire wherever it leads… “Follow your heart,” “Pursue your desire,” and it normalizes all forms of misplaced desire.

Both of those guiding meta-narratives result in the same thing…a denial and numbing of our hearts. I don’t think either side has the lion’s share of wisdom on how to navigate our deepest desires. The truth probably lies in the grey area, but not a lot of folks write from the grey area.

This is yet another question I’m wrestling with in this season… how to navigate desire in a way that is life-giving instead of life-destroying. I’m trying to find a way to journey WITH those heart-felt desires — desires that are neither holy nor unholy, but just ARE — without numbing their existence, explaining them away, or following them into destructive places.

Again… no answers… just more questions.

The Church is a Midwife, not an Epidural

When you find someone preaching the whole gospel, it turns your head.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been jaded by teachings of a formulaic god, a god who solves problems like arithmetic (you do a, God does b, C equals a happy life), or a god who desires for us to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. It’s exhausting to serve the god American Christianity has been serving up.

And then I run across this wisdom… from Brene Brown… and it gives me hope that there are pockets of people in the world who can still see that there is a God who runs the universe who is more than just a formula, a math equation, or a trite answer to a complex problem…

For those of you reading via email, click here for the video.

The Aftershock of Change

In 2005 I had the privilege of serving 51 displaced Hurricane Katrina evacuees. They landed at my back-door in rural Georgia after being displaced by one of the biggest storms of the century.

The physical storm that disrupted their lives was paltry in comparison to the aftershock of emotional and spiritual storms that eclipsed  their lives.

I stepped into this space and created an aftercare bench for 20 of the women. After a few weeks of care, one of the evacuees Kyla* changed the message on her phone to the following…

Hello and thanks for calling. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I have made some changes in my life. If I do not call you back, YOU are one of those changes.

My translation of Kyla’s message?

STEP 1: [Due to circumstances beyond my control] – Life has happened. I couldn’t stop it. I’m acknowledging the reality of my pain instead of minimizing it.

STEP 2: [I have made] – I can’t control what happened, but I can use it as a launching pad to reflectively look at my life and see what needs changing, and then change those things.

STEP 3: [If I do not call you back, YOU are one of those changes] – This is the action that I am committing to in order to make my life better.

Life happens. Storms happen. Shit happens.

But what Kyla taught me is that instead of bemoaning the fact that shit-has-happened, look at it as an opportunity to make changes in your life. Allow the storm to be a catalyst that motivates you towards positive life change, instead of a black hole that sucks you into emotional oblivion.

I’m ten months out of a major storm in my life.

To be totally honest, I’m still in Step 1 of processing through it. Some days I’m mad at life for “happening.” I’m frustrated at the load of crap that I was left carrying. Step 1 is forcing Step 2 to occur in my life… but I wouldn’t say that I have willingly moved into Step 2.

Step 3 is the inevitable pruning process that will result from Step 1 and Step 2. I’m already starting to look at what in my life needs to be kept, and what needs to go. I’m taking a re-look at what has gotten me to where I am, what needs to be retained, and what needs to be pruned for the next leg of my journey.

I’d love to wrap a pretty bow on this post and call it resolved… but it’s not. This is a stop on my journey from the middle of change and I don’t have a lot of answers.

 

 

*Kyla’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Church Marketing Sucks: The Certification Lab Experience

Recently I had the privilege of sharing my Certification Lab experience with my friends over at Church Marketing Sucks.

Dave Shrein and I had a cool podcast conversation. Click on the banner below to watch it!

2014_09jennyrainarticle

For those of you reading this in email, click here to access the podcast!

 

Do you believe in miracles?

This weekend we start The Grave Robber series at NCC.

My pastor, Mark Batterson, wrote a book all about seven of the miracles in John and we are getting ready to do a sermon series on it.

Pastor Mark said that he is hoping for miracles at NCC as we enter into this series. Me too. That’s exciting, and faith producing, and thrilling to see God working in our midst. This is the trailer…

Yet even as Pastor Mark made the comment and presented the trailer, I found myself already doubting the power of God to work a miracle in my relationship life.

I still doubt that God is bigger than my impossibly unhealthy relationships.
I wrestle with who is more powerful — my problem or my God.
I know intellectually that God is a miracle worker, but my heart rages against the experiential truth of God redeeming 20 years of brokenness.

When you have had an issue for over two decades, you begin to think it’s permanent.

Maybe I’ll have to borrow from the faith produced by other people’s miracles for awhile; I’m ok with that. A miracle is a miracle… and it shows God is working in your midst and present, so I’ll take God being near… that works!

I’m not sure what it will take to shift my thinking and faith around this issue. I know a mental shift is needed, just not sure how to get there.

For today, I am just asking God to help me believe a little more than I did yesterday that He is the God of the impossible.

 

GET IN TOUCH

I'm a natural connector both online and IRL and I become positively giddy when my diverse communities collide with one another!