Reflections in the Silver Cup


April 23, 2018

Tags: LGBT Christian, LGBT church


Cultivating warmth in a church, as I suggested in my last post, can mean a deep change in a church’s culture—perhaps too challenging to begin with. But there are smaller things that a church can do to make it safe for LGBTQ people to attend. One of them is very simple but may require courage.

Last week I read to another small group in a private home. The conversation that took place after I read was more important than the reading itself. The attendees were again people with a connection to a single church within the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), and it happened that all of them were women. This is a church that is ethnically diverse but not yet committed to being welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people. The woman who hosted the house party had said up front that she wanted us to talk about how to make their church more inclusive. As we talked, the women spoke about how busy their lives are with careers, young families, community activism, and church. One said, “People who couldn’t come tonight were excited about the topic and asked if we were planning to have more conversations. But when would we do it? I’m doing so much already.”

I suggested that they could hold conversations once a month. That didn’t get much response. So I came up with the simpler but not necessarily easier one. After the 2016 [very negative] decision on LGBTQ inclusion by the CRC’s general governing body, some individuals began handing out and wearing rainbow ribbons at their churches. “Wearing a rainbow ribbon lets LGBTQ people know that you affirm them, so you become someone safe to talk to,” I said. “If you invite others to wear ribbons, you know who your fellow allies are. That can offer support to you.”

One of the women said she had a rainbow pin that spelled “ALLY.” A conversation ensued about whether it’s okay to say you are an ally or whether it’s the LGBTQ person that gets to name you an ally. This part of the conversation actually brought up my comment about intent in my last post. My answer would be, “If someone says they are an ally, I will accept that that is their intention and be ready to kindly (or sometimes not so kindly) correct them if they say or do something that feels unallied to me.” Those of us with less privilege in some areas of our lives get tired of having to teach people how to be good allies; there are those who say that the people who have privilege have a responsibility to educate themselves, and that’s what I hope for. But I also believe we need to embrace the fact that we are all in this together, and we are all too human. Somehow, when we say that people with privilege have to teach themselves, I’m reminded of Gandhi saying, “If we operate on the principle of taking an eye for an eye, the whole world will end up blind.” I know that isn’t an exact analogy, but the spirit of not being so exacting, so righteously rigid, is there. When someone wants to be an ally, I say, “Let’s welcome them and help them along.” We all need help in our efforts to be allies. Anyway, that was where we got temporarily sidetracked, and I’ve taken it a bit further because I feel pretty strongly about it, especially as someone who tries to be a good ally in other situations; undeniably I fail sometimes. And I need help.

My host took immediate action, and she shared the results with me in an email. Our discussion happened on Friday and on Sunday she wore her rainbow ally pin. The pin generated several conversations at church and a text from someone who thought it was a cool pin. That gave my friend an opening to say she plans to wear it every Sunday from now on. One pin—several conversations that might otherwise never have taken place. One decision by one woman to claim her status as an ally has already made a difference.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

Questions Church People Ask

April 16, 2018

To Bear the Beams of Love
“What was it in all those churches you tried that told you it was unsafe for you there?” Church people (for lack of a better name) ask some variation on this question at lots of my readings from To Drink from the Silver Cup. Two weeks ago, I sat in a cozy Grand Rapids living room with a small gathering of folks who were mostly affiliated with the same Christian Reformed (CRC) church, the denomination of my youth. The pastor of that congregation posed the question. Today I’m surprised to realize that I have been out of that church almost twice as long as I was in it. But that is not the point because that question and its variants are not about me. They are about the questioners and their desire to create a safe place in their churches for people like me. They are asking what they can do to make their churches trustworthy for LGBTQ people.

No one had ever asked in quite that way before—what clued me that it wasn’t safe. I gave an answer, but I focused more on the ingredients that made a church feel safe, less on what had made all those other churches feel unsafe. So I wasn’t completely satisfied with what I said, and I kept thinking about it—one of the great pluses of engaging with people through the text of my book—being offered stimulating, challenging questions and ideas.

The first thing I said was true and important. “I wasn’t ready,” I said. And that is probably the bottom line. Some of those churches probably were more or less safe, but I was still laying the necessary inner groundwork, much of it done through reading, through learning from other traditions, through meditation and living, through conversation.

When it came to the churches themselves, often the theology was too rigid. Or I wasn’t willing to live with my translations of what I was hearing. There was an Episcopal church that I lasted in for ten minutes because the liturgy that morning was full of references to Jesus’s blood. Way too much blood. That blood probably meant something different to those Episcopalians, but I was hearing the hymn, “What can make me whole again?/Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I couldn’t swallow it, and I couldn’t reinterpret it. Not then. There was something more—the aura of high church. This girl from the reservation and the small town and the mission felt way out of place. And when I got up to walk out, heads turned. They were probably just curious, but I felt as if they were looking down their high church noses at me.

When I lived in Kalamazoo, my walks sometimes took me to the downtown square, where a large, formal looking church graced each of the four streets that faced the park—Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational, and Methodist. I was least familiar with the Methodists, so one weekday, I slipped into First Methodist Church’s narthex. I took a pamphlet that introduced the denomination, flipped through it, and found the heading “Homosexuality.” I read it and knew I would never darken the door of a service in any Methodist church. Explicitly, theologically unsafe.

I still find it easier to turn to what makes a church feel safe. At the end of my experiment (detailed in Part III of To Drink from the Silver Cup), I joined St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. There were three ingredients that made me want to join this group of Jesus Followers. The first was the warmth I felt there. It was palpable. It was real. It permeated the entire congregation and celebrated each individual. It wasn’t just directed toward me with the goal of having me join. The fact that I experience love extended to everyone doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with everyone else—far from it. But love overrides differences. Keep in mind that before coming to St. Andrew I had been highly skeptical of church for forty years, so I’m not just painting a rosy picture here.

I’m not sure how this warmth, this love, was fostered among this group of people, though I think it may be attributable in part to the second and third ingredients that made St. Andrew feel safe. The first of those is that we embrace doubt and doubters. I wrote in the book that without doubt, we have no need of faith. I see doubt as integral to faith, an essential part of faith. In the CRC, as in other Reformed traditions, the mind is valued, and critical thinking is encouraged in the faith arena, but in the CRC it must remain within a certain framework, and there is always an attempt to bring divergent thinking back into alignment with creeds and catechisms. Embracing doubt as a facet of faith and doubters as precious members, prophets even, makes for flexibility that fosters growth and nurtures unconditional love. There’s a passage in my book where the pastor reads from Matthew 28 about the disciples seeing Jesus after his resurrection, “They worshipped him, but some doubted.” Then he said, “Some of us stand on the mountain believing, but we don’t throw the doubters under the bus.” In order to be a safe and welcoming place, everyone needs to be embraced wherever they are in their faith journey. Not all this checking to see if someone matches up to some human-created standard (as doctrines so often are). Not all this business of “Who’s in?” and “Who’s out?” Acceptance of doubt as a gift to the individual and to the Body.

The third thing that made St. Andrew safe was the strong, grassroots emphasis on social justice. Many in the congregation actively pursue social justice, which includes a vital ministry to homeless people. Those who are not actively involved lend their quiet support, including financial. In 2014, when the Presbyterian denomination was considering whether or not to permit same-sex marriage within the church, St. Andrew was one of the churches that submitted the overture to the General Assembly. When it passed, the social justice committee held a party to celebrate, and even the only committee member who had abstained from supporting the overture came to the party. I felt personally supported and celebrated in those actions. The church has had a float in the Pride Parade for three years, and I did not instigate it or even participate in any way the first two years. It was allies who spearheaded the effort. Even if they had done nothing specifically for LGBTQ people, the practice of justice and the love of mercy, would have helped make me feel safe.

At another reading a few nights ago, a young woman spoke up about feeling marginalized in her CRC church for racial reasons. She is a trans-racial adoptee, and experiences people trying to place her, figure out where she belongs, (implication, whether she belongs) since she doesn’t look like most of the rest of the congregation. The “Who’s in?” and “Who’s out?” questions again. She talked about how churches are always trying to figure out how to be accepting or even welcoming, as if it’s something they can magnanimously bestow (those weren’t her words, but that is what she was driving at).

I said, “The churches are losing out when they keep out people who would bring diversity to the table.”

“Exactly,” she said animatedly.

And maybe that’s the most important takeaway for church people who are asking how to welcome LGBTQ people or anyone who will diversify your congregation: Stop thinking that you are the ones who have so much to offer. Start thinking about what you will receive if you open your arms. After all, what good does it do the Body of Christ if it is made up only of a bunch of feet? As one person said, “It would be pretty stinky.” Nor would the Body be able to take in nourishment, to speak. It would be paralyzed.

All of that said, the most important thing to me is intention. Sometimes those of us that represent the minority, whether in faith communities or society at large, require our would-be allies to be perfectly correct and knowledgeable before we will accept their efforts. And this keeps them from reaching out, from advocating, out of fear of doing it wrong. What’s most important is what lies in the heart of a person who is reaching out. Nevertheless, when we are in a position of privilege, we still must have the courage to be willing to make a mistake in standing for justice, even when we're afraid we might do it wrong. Maybe this is the most important takeaway for church people: cultivate genuine warmth for one another and for the stranger in your midst. Because, in the end, As William Blake wrote, we are here to learn to bear the beams of love.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved


April 5, 2018

Tags: LGBT Christian, Gay Christian

On tour again, it seemed as if this post from April 2016 might be relevant to some readers. The reasons appear in no particular order.

1. I couldn’t help it. My favorite poet Rumi wrote, “There is one thing in this world that you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there is nothing to worry about, but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.” I started trying to write a version of this story when I was nineteen. I kept on trying for nearly fifty years. My inescapable compulsion lends credence to Rumi’s statement.

2. Persistence is central to (more…)


March 21, 2018

Tags: book tour, travel, Ohio

Yellow Springs Bike Trail
It isn't magic from a top hat; it's Deep Magic. The magic that happens when you step into the wardrobe and leave Spare Oom. Magic that has happened again and again when I've gone on the road with To Drink from the Silver Cup. I am on the road again.

On Tuesday, March 13, I flew out of Albuquerque, landing in Columbus, Ohio. The magic (more…)


February 11, 2018

I have a friend who writes me a letter every Sunday morning. Her letters are full of tales about activities and projects, stimulating thoughts and perceptions, links to interests we share. She practices the art of letter-writing in an era when real letters are almost nonexistent. Yesterday, her letter was much shorter than usual. She told me about her not very good week. And then she asked, "Do you have any good stories for me?"

At first I said no, that I haven't been coming up with good stories lately. Then I thought, wait a minute; I think I might (more…)

THE STORY BASKET: On Counseling Children

January 22, 2018

Tags: child counseling, school counseling, storytelling narrative therapy

…in the aftermath of violent histories, telling stories and listening to stories are acts of peace. ~ Connie Braun, Silentium

All day long these children and I
trade stories
we weave colors and textures
we write together in journals
we tell what it is all about
we trade love for love
I hold their tears

I am the story basket
and in me the stories change
color and shape and sound
they take on rhythm
drum beats (more…)


January 15, 2018

Tags: birthing, childbirth, home birth, haircuts, curtains

It was a narrow, mint green rectangle, about the size of a crib sheet with Auckland Hospital Delivery stenciled large and black in one corner. The midwife brought it with her to the house, and my baby slid out onto it like a little otter. The midwife forgot it, and I washed it with the first load of diapers and undershirts. Some of the blood stayed, making furry looking, irregular rings—wide, brown outlines of small continents. Now and then, I used it in my daughter’s crib—clean, just a bit stained. A male nurse lived in our house then. He liked rules and said (more…)


January 4, 2018

Tags: decolonizing religion, decolonizing Christianity, spiritual journey, Doctrine of Discovery, Christian Reformed Church, CRC

Meeting Darlene Silversmith was a surprise. It happened while I was serializing To Drink from the Silver Cup on my blog. She must have found the blog through a Facebook post and commented something like this: “Wow! Christian Reformed [CRC and the church I grew up in] and in the Navajo Nation. Have to read this.” After she’d read a few chapters, she shared some of her own story about being in the CRC. Darlene is Diné, and her family roots are in Crownpoint, New Mexico, although she was born in Oakland, California, her birth there being one more example of the colonization of indigenous people. It was US policy, especially in the 1950s and 60s, to try to integrate Diné into the society at large through a program known as relocation, in which Native people were sent to urban areas to vocational training programs, where it was hoped they would settle.

Darlene’s Facebook posts intrigued me, as she was clearly very involved in the CRC. At the time she was going through its Leadership Development Program and seeking what is known in the CRC as a license to exhort, which means basically a license to preach without being ordained. At the same time, she was clearly aware of and raising consciousness about the need to decolonize Christianity. I asked if I could interview her at some point when I would be in the area. Her reply was a single word: “Sure.”

As my book tour evolved, it turned out that I would drive through Crownpoint en route to an event in Cuba, NM. We agreed to meet at (more…)


December 21, 2017

Tags: Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Gallup Independent

This piece first appeared as a column on December 23 in my hometown newspaper, the Gallup Independent. Printed here with permission.

On the magnificent golden butte that overlooks the ruins of Chaco Canyon, ancient astronomers, ancestors of the Pueblo peoples, created a massive solar calendar. They were not only astronomers, they had among them highly talented engineers that were able to place three enormous slices of sandstone in perfect alignment so that, as Earth revolves around the sun, sunlight strikes a spiral carved on the foremost rock in targeted locations. It happens on the fall and spring equinoxes and on the summer and winter solstices.

Long before I knew about this calendar, I imagined (more…)


November 20, 2017

Tags: gender queer, Egalitarian Wall, Western Wall, hineini

Austin and Friends at the Egalitarian Western Wall
When Rabbi Gershon Winkler sent his endorsement of To Drink from the Silver Cup, he alluded to the first question that God asked First Human, “Where are you?” The answer from those who are ready—from Abraham to Samuel to Isaiah—is, “Hineini (Hebrew),” or, in English, “Here I Am.”

“Here I Am,” was what Austin Schaffer, who is a genderqueer Jew, needed to be able to say at the Western Wall in Jerusalem four years ago. Being able to say, “Here I am,” is for most LGBTQ people a process that takes place over time. As Austin wrote in commemoration of National Coming Out Day 2017, “For me ‘the closet’ is not (more…)