Monday, October 23, 2017

Old Town Monrovia

California has some seriously Instagram worthy little towns with adorable shops. I work in one of them. 

Men Who Rocked The World: English Reformers

Men Who Rocked the World conference holds an high place in my heart. I remember sitting in the audience last year thinking "Who the hell is Steve Lawson?" Listening to his biographical sermons on Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, and George Whitfield, I could not believe how awesome God's presence was in their lives. It was so encouraging to hear how they rose and fell, struggled and suffered for their deep convictions - how they constantly went against the grain of society (often times, the Christian society). After the conference, I quickly learned that Lawson is known for his fiery preaching, uncompromising convictions and his ability to bring church history alive and applicable for us today. Since that conference, I spent a year learning more from him (via YouTube.) I even read a book about his preaching and discovered I wasn't the only person blown away. This year, I was determined to purchase one of his books and get him to sign it, just so that I could meet him.

I was incredibly shy the first night, watching him from afar as he shook hands and signed books. But then, as I stepped backwards into the line for breakfast the following morning, there he was speaking to an elder at the church. I felt like God was putting me there and yet I was too nervous to shake his hand. I don't know if that has to do with me being a lesbian (and being fearful at his response) or me simply being so aware of how much God is using him. 

Later in the day, I bought a bio on Calvin and finally went up to him. I started to cry and so I did my best to hold it in as he signed my book and took a picture with me. He was so nice and caring. What a gift he is to the body of Christ. 

The whole time I sat there, at this conference, I kept thinking about the LGBT community. I kept wondering about who our heroes of the faith are. Who are the queer Christians who have died refusing to be erased, demanding a seat at the table? I know they exist. But who are they? Something like this for the LGBT Christian community would be SO encouraging. It would undoubtedly cement their feet into their convictions about who they are and God's love for them. 

This year I plan on doing a lot of research. Who are my fellow queers who have risked their lives and gave them up in order to defend their faith? And how can I best tell their stories? This year, Lawson's emphasis was on the English martyrs under Bloody Mary - many of which were not clergy. Out of the 300 recorded deaths, 20ish were clergy. The rest were civilians and they died being burned at the stake. Some of them even had bags of gun powder wrapped around their necks so that when there bodies started to burn, their heads would explode. And yet, these people were willing to die.

It's incredible, inspiring and deeply humbling. May God continue to bless my faith as I seek to figure out how to tell these stories. Check out this amazing promo on the conference. The music and the way he tells their story, still strengthens my heart.








Because it's almost Halloween....

And I feel a little scared. 


Video Art Making

Spent the afternoon at the Echo Park Film Center yesterday in a work shop on Video Art. It feels like a hipster way of creating music videos - trendy and aimless. But then, I saw her camera - this massive Panasonic beast that records right onto VHS tapes. The "new" tape was created in 2003. And then I got to play with the video mixer and video equalizer - all equipment I hadn't seen since the sixth grade, when I worked with on the morning announcements at Silver Lakes Elementary School. Using these elements again gave the production process a greater tangible quality. Like we were using different media to create one media - the final video art. 

Yesterday's workshop had me thinking about Niki and the Dove's Instinct album and how cool it would be to create video art for my favorite songs. #2018planning




College Recruitment Fair

A couple of weekends ago, I spent my Saturday morning helping out a college recruitment fair. It was an interesting experience, learning how to speak about my alma mater - pitching it in a way to persuade students to apply. I love this school. God did so much through my short time there. I learned how to think critically, how to see the world through different lenses at one time (intersectionality). I took my first narrative writing class at Central. I learned about American literature, and the importance of my own voice. North Carolina Central holds a special place in my heart. I'm so grateful for the chance to invite others to this university too. 

What made this particular college fair so special to me was, it was for Latinx students. Believe ir or not, we are the first HBCU to have a Latinx Sorority. Being a Cuban American in Los Angeles, recruiting for a Historically Black College, felt so unique. I'm really grateful.




Sunday, October 15, 2017

Broken


I had to make a very hard decision this week and I feel really broken up about it.

Sometime last May (2016) I decided to leave a gay affirming church for several seemingly important reasons. The church was relatively liberal, in it's view of Christ and sex. Which, at the time, with all that I was learning about the AIDs epidemic and my friends with HIV, was problematic for me. And I couldn't reconcile the idea of living segregated from the straight Christian community. That made no sense. So I quietly left. It was hard. People noticed. But I felt immensely better and realized I could deal with homophobia (or so I thought) but I could not deal with following a pastor who didn't believe Jesus was who He says He is. As you could see, I was quite ignorant and very, very arrogant.

Around that time, I began a search for a church that would both accept me and preach, what I felt was, the Gospel. Looking back, I didn't realize that it took me a good four - five months. I narrowed it down to two churches, one traditional church in Pasadena and one incredible urban church, focused on social justice and "inclusion" in downtown, Los Angeles. I fell immediately in love with downtown. I loved how intentional they were and how focused leadership was to speak truth into the cultural challenges of our time - how they did it with care and kindness. It is safe to say, that even today, with my broken heart, I have never loved a church the way I loved (and still very much do) the downtown church. I got plugged into a small group, began serving in their media team, took over their social media and completely immersed myself in loving and supporting them.

From the beginning however, I had this sense that I wasn't completely accepted. I attributed it to my lack of gender conformity and my singleness, thinking I was in some ways, putting myself out there to be ostracized. Or, in other words, people were even more aware of me because I was (am) butch and alone. I remember being so afraid of what people thought of me that I started crying during one of the small groups. No one tried to comfort me. It was simply understood that it took a lot of courage for my community to even attend and they admired that. Not sure why I didn't see that as a red flag.

Needless to say, in the middle of being extremely blessed by their friendship and love and care, I was also hurt by one of the leaders informing me, that he and another pastor were praying my gay away. My very best friend there, also told me her boyfriend no longer wanted her to see me because of my sexuality. There were so many weird and complicated comments in the weekly sermons. I cringe, even today, to consider the number of times I heard the pastor refer to marriage, as an example of Christ and the church but also, only between a man and a woman. He did it so many times one Sunday, it was all I could do not to walk out. When they were in desperate need for childcare, I reached out asking to help and I never heard back.

When the whole pray the gay away conversation came up, I broke in two and seriously considered leaving. But hadn't actually taken the time to sit down with anyone in leadership about this issue and so I thought it befitting to do so. I was glad I did. Hearing the pastor's heart about this issue and discussing it juxtaposed against another complicated issue (abortion) really helped me to see this whole thing in context and further confirmed that I was there because God was calling me. At the time of that conversation at Olive Garden with him and his wife, the only exclusion that LGBT people were privy too, as I understood it from him was simply, he could not officiate my wedding. But he was happy to attend! 

Seriously, that was all I understood. And I felt like God was calling me to mature and to see the big picture, and to not tear asunder what He was building by running away. When I asked him about working with children, he and another pastor both referred to this gay couple who had been serving in the children's ministry for years. They both asked me if I new them. Clearly, I did not. 

And so I stayed the whole summer, diving deeper in my commitment and love for them as I saw God do some amazing things in me and through me. Closeted men came out to me. Straight people told me I was the first lesbian they ever befriended. I felt confident in God's desire for me to be there and to suffer, so to speak, for those who could not live their truth out loud within the context of the local church.

A couple of weeks ago, a really nice woman reached out to me as a LGBT ally. She was the first person I ever met in Los Angeles who proudly identified as such. After a few weeks of phone tag (message tag) we finally sat down and she went through a list of ways that we are indeed, excluded at this church. If we are in a same sex relationship, we are not allowed to teach the children, pray for other people as leaders and receive any kind of counseling in reference to our homosexual relationships (pre-martial/marital/relationship counseling). I was completely broken in two. I had no idea about any of this. That night, I came home and immediately emailed the pastor, asking him if the above was true. I heard back from him the next day, that he would prefer to talk about this in person. I said I was too distraught to wait and that he could call me anytime. He never called.

I reached out to another pastor who indeed, with great gentleness and care, affirmed that the above as indeed true. I cannot tell you how broken I was, and very much still am. I was so sure God wanted me there that I now feel so foolish and naive and stupid for proclaiming my loyalty knowing what I know now. 

I returned my keys to the church office yesterday. I still feel pretty shitty and confused and very hurt. I take full responsibility for not asking enough questions. I should have taken more time to discuss this with the handful of other LGBT people at the church. In some ways, I can see God using this for good, crushing my spirit to bring about a fragrance and fruit. I am now totally unsympathetic toward non affirming communities and feel a deep protectiveness over my LGBT brothers and sisters. The pain of exclusion is way to great and only serves to keep prejudice people more comfortable. But this still feels like a gross indiscretion on my part. My friend at work has been telling me from the very beginning that something is wrong with me attending this particular church or any church where I have to be quiet or less vocal about who I am. God bless her for not giving up on me.  Not a single LGBT person I met was okay or agreed with my desire to stay, with the church being unaffirming. Not even straight Christians saw this as okay. Why didn't I see the signs? Why didn't try to look further? Why, when feeling the pain of talking about this, did I not realize that as a sign that something wasn't right?



My grandma's boyfriend


When I was about six or seven years old, I remember meeting a man who was identified as "Mim's boyfriend."  Eugenio, (Eugene in Spanish) was a dirty blonde Cuban fisherman, father of an 18 year old boy who still lived in Cuba. He was simple, hardworking and deeply masculine. He ate all of the food Mimi put on his plate using a fork and his spare thumb. He drank one beer each night, smoked a pack of Marlboro lights a day and read penny Spanish Westerns during his down time. They were together when Eugenio was in his mid thirties and Mimi was in her mid-late fifties. Even dad was older than him (my grandma gave birth young). 

Eugenio LOVED my grandmother. Aside from my Grandpa Frank and my Youth Pastor, Cali, Eugenio was the single greatest male influence in my life. I'll never forget the way he would cup my face in his calloused hands and tell me in Spanish how much he loved and adored Kyle and I.  I never felt like I was bothering him. My grandma would take us with him on fishing trips each summer. It was with Eugenio where Kyle and I caught our first shark. We also caught Yellow Tail and used those Yellow Tail fish to catch Barracudas. We walked around his boat like Kings and Queens and swam in the crystal clear water of the Florida Keys and slept underneath the stars on warm nights nestled next to the mangroves. Eugenio knew the water and the pattern of the ocean as if the Atlantic was simply an old friend. His best friend was (and probably still is) Phelippe. (Man in black second picture down.) Phelippe's wrinkles were so deep - I loved his face and the bush of hair on his forearms. Both men would take off their shirts when they fished.  Phelippe had a wife named Blanca. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think and feel and desire to be like Eugenio in my commitments, in my contentment, and in my desire to work hard. When I was thirteen or fourteen, he and my grandmother went their separate ways. It was never supposed to be forever and everyone, including my grandmother knew that. She kept his last name though. In the four men she married, she only kept his last name - Lopez. I honestly didn't know they had married. 

A couple of years ago, when I was still living in San Francisco, Mimi gave me a DVD of Eugenio fishing. Someone had created it and it was about him catching a giant sword fish. I suppose you could say, his influence on my life was evident twenty years later and my grandmother was grateful for that.