Category Archives: sermonizing la lucha

surviving and thriving past suicide

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This past April, a student group on campus organized an evening of reflection and solidarity with individuals impacted by suicide.  I was asked if the LGBT Center would like to collaborate and if I would be willing to speak.  As part of the event, I facilitated an activity as well as sharing the reflection below.  I share my story not for folks to feel bad for my struggle with depression but to raise awareness that this is a real struggle that impacts thousands of people everyday.  I am not alone, you are not alone, we are not alone.   For folks who are hurting, some resources to turn to…

­Trevor Lifeline ~ 866-488-7386

­Trans Lifeline ~ 877-565-8860

­National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ~ 1-800-273-TALK

Saludos a todas y todos…In honor of all those living with mental health issues, a rant by me.

This is the first time I speak out in the open about this…it is a coming out of sorts for me. While I was in graduate school I took a week off, more accurately…I signed myself into a psychiatric unit at our local hospital.  After years of battling and struggling and smiling away suicidal ideations, desires to hurt the body what was not home for me, stubborn pride that I could fix it because “delfin can handle and make anything happen…”;  I realized that I needed to take care of me and that I needed help because the downward spiraling was taking not only dangerous to my own wellbeing but was also impacting those around me.

As a social worker, I knew the signs, I knew what to do—for everyone else, but not for myself.  I was standing on an emotional precipice and made the scariest, bravest, bestest, whatever adjective you want to use-est call to our counseling center and decided that I needed help, even if I my head popped off.

It was a good week…I slept a lot and read a lot and was the break I needed.  Who knew that being in the “looney bin” (problematic I know) would be a transformative retreat. I began to acknowledge the years of discomfort and pain of not having a body that reflects my gender…of not being able to express my gender in ways that is authentic to me…I began to acknowledge the familial trauma that has permeated generations of my family…how past hurts have been passed from parent to child with traumas taking on scariness that shatters wholeness in new ways with each new generation of familia.  I began to acknowledge the problematic dynamics within my relationship with my dearly beloved and how to bring health back to our dynamic duo of awesome.

The week in the hospital did not fix everything or anything for that matter…but it did help me respark the desire to live into me with fierceness, fabulosity, and delfic passion.  As a person who had prided themselves in being able to take on the world with my misguided “I’m a trooper” mentality, I learned that asking for help will not cause me to spontaneously combust…asking for help is like a good pair of walking shoes or tires for your car, they don’t direct your feet or car but they do help when you have to take a long journey.

And so, I share this rant I wrote soon after being discharged…

i am clinically depressed,  society diagnoses me to the margin.
more so than being transgender or a Catholic heretic, the socialized stigma of “defective sicko” has blocked my path.
my depressive episodes and resilient oomphs to re-member by spirit are symptomized as worthless …
why?
because of untempered misunderstandings of depression that blame me, pathologize me, that problematize me, that make me the problem that needs to be fixed.
i am told:
“pull yourself up by the bootstraps of pill-popping” … “just pray” … “turn that frown upside down” … i am treated with well-intentioned yet mocking quips of “you’ll be okay”… or “I am sorry but if you do this this and that…” or “rise and shine, get out of bed”
but I say to all of this hell the f*** NO!!!
my divine chutzpah drives me to love myself  beyond misappropriated categories.
i do not murder the reminders of my suffering … I lean into them.

They are scars that I wear as badges of survival and of thriving.
i am more than a therapist’s DSM classification.
i’m screwed up but damnit, i’m a person.
the words to my now are: undoing, redoing, lucha.
i queerify definitions.

I queerify mental health struggles.  The struggle is real but so too is the resilience.
my life is the evidence seen and unseen…i am good enough, period.  Amen, blessed be!

 

I share this rant in hopes that others will share their rants in ways that are meaningful to them.  Together our rants will reak havoc and spark others to come out…living with a mental health issue is not a stigma or defect, it is my reality, it is the reality of some folks present today, it is the reality of millions of people around the world.  There is no shame or shade in living with mental health issues…we are simply living, perhaps unlike others, but living and embodying badassery by accepting our tears, our toils, our tribulations, our traumas.

Is suicide still a part of my life, yes, not only because of the statistics that show that LGBT are a higher risk of mental health issues that can lead to suicide, but because it is a part of me, my story, my struggle, my resilience.  I’ve come to understand that thrivingness is not about doing cartwheels throughout Baker Center or putting on a veneer of faux happiness (the creepy, I’m fine look…we’ve all done it!).

Thrivingness is living through the real struggle of asking for help…yes I am a trooper but troopers belong to units / barracks and are not alone. And so I embrace my nickname in the center of “capitan” with gusto because I know that my fellow troopers are with me in the struggle bus (a struggle bus in which I am learning I don’t always have to be the driver of).

For a long time, I was convinced that my head would pop off or explode if I showed that I was vulnerable especially if I asked for help.  I am not perfect, this is not about perfection,but a mindfulness that asking for help before a crisis, during a crisis, after a crisis, and/or when there is no crisis is okay…my head is proudly still on my shoulders, balder than I would like, but attached to me it is.

Thrivingness is about the reality that I woke up and got out of bed.  That is feat of triumph that I celebrate.   Thrivingness is going to McDonald’s for a happy meal, well actually a number 9 with no mayo and an order of chicken nuggets large size with a coke (my version of happy meal) and having a picnic under the cherry blossoms all by my fierce loneful self.   Thrivingness is showing up for class and for meetings, even when I am not prepared to teach or facilitate discussion.  Thrivingness is about being here right now.   It doesn’t mean I don’t hurt, it doesn’t mean that everything is honkeydorey, it doesn’t mean that depressive and random shifts in my mood or sporadic episodes of crying in the car listening to WOUB news reports on the hour go completely away…thrivingness is the embodiment of what Celie in Alice Walker’s Color Purple passionately proclaims “I may be old, I may be black, I may even be ugly, but dear G-d I’m here, I’m here…”

And so yes, I am here, you are here, we are here.

Tonight we honor all those who are not here but whose lives and spirits can thrive through us.  Their lives may be physically silent, but we do not forget them…their memories will continue to roar and rant in us and through us to the world and beyond.

Muchas gracias por este espacio. Buenas noches.

embracing pinkitude…solidarity with those living with breast cancer

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embracing pinkitude…solidarity with those living with breast cancer

Saludos to all!  First off, I would like to apologize that I have not posted to the blog in a long time.  Life became very hectic with personal and professional life, causing a neglect in my writing.  However, I am learning to balance and learning to find time for my writing, ranting, and sermonizing.   And so la lucha will continue and venture into new areas of luchaness.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to share this homily I wrote in memory of Marie Hernandez and Maria Lemes da Silva, two brave women who coped and thrived despite being diagnosed with breast cancer.  The sermon is based on the three Gospel stories of the woman who was hemorrhaging that touched Jesus’ garment (Matt 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43).  Her story is one of not allowing a disease define who she was and of taking a leap of faith that is rooted in radical boldness.  May “think pink” be more than a catchy gimmick this month but an ongoing testament to our solidarity with all those impacted by breast cancer—a commitment to coping, surviving, and thriving.  Towards the end there is space for people to name all those women and men who have bravely fought this disease, who are beginning the fight, and who are in remission—honoring also their loved ones who are also coping, surviving, and thriving.

Fore more information about breast cancer and ways to get involved, please visit The National Breast Cancer Foundation (http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org).

Coping     Surviving     Thriving

I will be honest, preparing this sermon was a challenge. It was and still is daunting and anxiety provoking, inducing of many brain-busts.  What can I say about breast cancer? What do I know?  I asked myself repeatedly, how will G-d get me through this one?  Why me?  But than I asked, why not me?   Someone has to break the silence. I may not know much but…I do know that…

  • Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among American women, accounting for one in three cancer diagnoses in women.
  • One in eight women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lifetime
  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women aged forty to fifty-nine
  • There are over two million breast cancer survivors in the United States
  • A survey of twelve years of reports in two major psychiatric journals showed that spirituality – defined as participation in religious ceremony, social support, prayer, and belief in a higher being – yielded positive mental health benefits in 92% of the cases

I know Maria Lemes da Silva, I know Marie Walker Hernandez, two brave women who fought breast cancer, two women who are presente and here with us.  I know that despite the intensity and magnitude of this disease, the pulpit has remained silent.   I may not know much about the embodied impact of breast cancer, but I do know about coping, surviving, and thriving.  I may not know the struggle of radical mastectomies, the pain of chemotherapy, or the anxiety caused by finding the right wig, but I do know about the warrior spirit of the luchadoras who are in the struggle…la lucha, to not merely cope or survive with breast cancer but to thrive.  Luchadoras who are not letting cancer define who they are, but who are finding ways to live life without fear, despite the pain that breast cancer may be inflicting on the body, they are not letting it take over their spirits.

Coping     Surviving     Thriving

When it came to finding a scripture passage to reflect on sermonically, I was at a loss and I struggled with the bible, realizing that many of the passages on healing in the New Testament intersected with sin and I did not want to equate cancer with sin … I also realized that many of these same stories are sources of hope for many who are living with cancer.   What to do?  After hours of reflecting, praying, reading,  re-reflecting, re-reading, and praying again,  G-d sent me 4 radically spiritual women, Sadie, Rebecca, Stephanie, and Rachel.   At a point where I was going to lose hope in scripture and in Christianity, these 4 women shared insights and thoughts and questions that helped me see passages in a different light.

With their help, I came across the story of a woman whom I am naming Florence.   Her story is captured in 3 of the gospels as the woman who was hemorrhaging that touched the hem or fringes of Jesus’ cloak/robe.  Her story is one inspiration, of boundary breaking, of the warrior spirit that was embraced by Marie, Maria, and the countless women and men diagnosed with and affected by breast cancer. She is un-named in the gospel accounts, but the fact that she is included in 3 gospels reflects the importance of her story of fighting with a chutzpah-based faith.  

Florence was afflicted with a disease, a disease that made her unpure and marginalized her from society – not unlike the treatment many women received when they were first diagnosed, marginalized by silence by many who were unable to pronounce the “c-word.”  Florence was a luchadora, she was not going to let disease stop her from living.  She went to doctors, she prayed, she offered sacrifices.  But despite all her efforts, 12 years worth, she did not get the results she hoped and yearned for.  However she did not let that stop her, she endured the chemos and homeopathic remedies of her day with their body ravaging side affects and side effects to the side effects, she could not be healed, she could not be made whole – but her chispa, her undominable audacity to hope would keep her in la lucha, in the struggle.

Despite social norms on purity and the place of women in society, Florence acted boldly, aggressively … she did not let the cancer within her define her or let society dictate her identity.  Florence decided she would fight and do what was needed.  She embodied the Deuteronomist’s encouragement…“Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; G-d will not fail you or forsake you.”   She trusted G-d and G-d trusted her.  Guided by her faith and determination, she did something radical … she touched Jesus.

Despite the crowds, despite the claustrophobia of crawling through a forest of legs, despite the heat, despite the pain within her body, despite the stigma that marked her and that she risked marking on others, she took a leap of faith and was healed … Jesus tells her that it is her faith that healed her.  It was her boldness, her determination, her lucha that brought her healing and made her whole.  Her lucha of coping surviving and thriving

What can we learn from Florence?  What can we learn from her faith that flowed her into voice and wholeness?  She lived and embodied what the Psalmist says in Psalm 31 … she was strong and let her heart take courage.  She took a risk, she took a chance, she got messy. Knowing at the core of her being, in the depths of her soul, G-d was with her … she coped, she survived, she thrived.

Florence’s story is not a story of giving people false hope, or instill an expectation of healing.  Florence’s testimony in the Gospels  is about not letting disease or society’s view of disease define how one lives life, however, long or short it will be. We need to remind all those living with breast cancer that they cannot and will not be diagnosed to the margin.  They are not alone, for G-d is with them.  It is not about fuzzy quips and fluffy colloquialisms, but radically embracing life like Florence, Marie, and Maria … Of fighting with every breath and ounce of chutzpah one can muster.  Of transforming limitations into differently abledness.  

Maria is my best friend and sister in life’s mother.  Marie is my beloved husband’s mother.  These two moms, wives, workers, women of faith realized that though they might not be able to climb mountains anymore, they would boldly proclaim…
I will go to church, I will raise my children,
I will lead a household, I will be there for others,
I will participate in treatment,
I will work as long as I can to take care of my loved ones,
I will cry, I will be angry,
I will laugh, I will go to the doctor,
I will live.
Will it be easy, no.
Will we get mad, yes.  
Is that okay … it sure is.
It is okay to complain and be angry and ask G-d why.  Like Job and Job’s unnamed wife, we can authentically and angrily ask G-d why … knowing that G-d can take it.  Maria and Marie, like so many others, coped and thrived.  They could not answer many questions about their health or what would happen, but assured everyone through their conviction and faith to live as long as they were able to live, believing and reminding others to believe that G-d’s love was present and filled with anger-enduring care.  

As the Psalmist proclaims … G-d is my shelter, covering me in the refuge of G-d’s feather… in G-d is my strength … though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil … with G-D, what shall I fear.

As Isaiah proclaims … “do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your G-d;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
   I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Coping     Surviving     Thriving

In this place, may we be reminded that though the world may be falling apart, our bodies are ravished with scars, chemo has caused our hair to fall out, nausea is our constant companion, getting out of bed is an insurmountable quest, fear of the cancer spreading, G-d is suffering with us.  G-d is carrying the cross with us and sometimes for us through a nurse, doctor, friend, loved one. G-d is holding us.

“And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings, Bare you up on breath of dawn.  Make you to shine like the sun, And hold you in the palm of G-d’s hand, And hold you in the palm of G-d’s hand.”  (Hymn On Eagle’s Wings by Rev. Michael Joncas)

To be held is an act of trust and vulnerability, to allow oneself to be gently cradled in the hands of another, to truly believe our partners who still behold us as beautiful, to allow others to help you because walking to the kitchen for a cup of water is exhausting … to share with a stranger that the scars on our bodies are medals of honor and badges of courage… to be held by G-d through the pain and the joy.  To be held into coping, surviving, and thriving.

In this space, let us remember Florence, Marie, and Maria.  Let us make presente all the women living with breast cancer … For Hispanics and Latinos, those who have died are still with us, presente in our lucha, as companions in our struggles and in our celebrations.  Their stories are reminders that we are to focus on today so we can get to tomorrow, their presencia reminds us that we are not alone.  

(interactive)
In this space, you are invited to share the names of all those who have been impacted by breast cancer.  You are also invited to light a candle…

Let us lift up the names of our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, wives, cousins, and grandmothers, friends, brothers, co-workers, husbands, and pastors…

May we lift up the names of those who have died, those have been recently diagnosed, those in remission, those going through treatment, and those who are getting tested…

(back to sermon)
Where 2 or 3 are gathered, there I am … This is our calling as people of faith … To be in la lucha with and sometimes for others, to break the silence, to allow G-d to flow through us … starting groups of support, taking people to the doctor, cooking meals, going the extra mile at the cancer walk, not letting pink be just a gimmick but a true sign of our solidarity…sharing the Kleenex when the time to say “ta ta for now” comes…Talking about breast cancer to ensure that women can go from lump to laughter, love, and life.

Though one may be overpowered by the vomiting, scarring, headaches, body aches, puss, hairloss, confusions about treatments, worries about finances, uncertainties … one is not alone, one is in community, en conjunto, we face this disease … we are in this together.  

As it is written in Ecclesiastes, “And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  Our experiences here are interconnected, the experiences of Marie and Maria and all women before us are interconnected with us.  Marie and Maria died of cancer, but did not lose the battle to cancer.  They are still fighting…their memory, their children, their spirits, their Florence-like chutzpah, their presence lives, loves, and fights on … With them presente in our lucha, we cope, we survive, and we thrive.
Amen.

non-violent activism delfin style

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non-violent activism delfin style

Below are a series of reflective responses that I was asked to write by and for Soulforce.  I have been involved with Soulforce since 2007 when I took part in the second Equality Ride, visiting colleges and universities that have anti-LGBT policies and practices.  Since that faith-filled bus ride for justice, I have participated in Soulforce’s action at the General Convention of the United Methodist Church in Dallas,  the 2008 96 mile Equality Walk for Marriage Equality in Phoenix, the 2009 witness at the Vatican Embassy in New York City, and lastly the delegate program which was a part of the queer pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Rio.  My journey with Soulforce has been soul-filled teaching me the transformative force one’s testimony can bring as we live into solidarity with marginalized communities (a solidarity with myself and with others).  

As Soulforce turns 15 they are working to create a Living Nonviolence Archive, a collection of personal stories and experiences about how folks have lived into and out nonviolence as a “guiding philosophy for us since our inception, calling us to be creative, self-reflective, and intent on subverting power.”  I was asked to be part of this oral-history/herstory/theystory project and I wanted to share glimpses into my testimony as a way of introducing (or reintroducing) folks to the transformative intersectional solidarity of Soulforce.  To learn more about this project and learn from the witnesses of others, visit: http://soulforce.com/resources/living-nonviolence-archive-toolkit/

What does nonviolence mean to you? Especially in terms of the organization, how do you see nonviolence play a core role in terms of what Soulforce does and what Soulforce is about?

Expressing nonviolence in its fullness is tough but I will try to give a glimpse into what it has meant and how it continues to evolve for me.  Nonviolence is something that is lived everyday from words to deeds to thoughts…however is not about perfection or always getting it right.  Nonviolence is open to bloopers and good intentions and to learning from one’s mistakes.

Soulforce has complemented and enhanced my principles as an activist theologian who strives to create a space where we are meeting people where they are.  Its not othering the other but trying as best as one can to inhabit their space and see the world from their perspective.   Nonviolence moves away from the right vs. wrong, us vs. them, privileged vs. disadvantaged…it creates a narrative of us, we, together…allowing all of us to recognize our privileges so we can use that power to make it better for all of us AND to recognize where we are disadvantaged so that we can live our solidarity with others more authentically and less misappropriatingly.

For a long time I spoke about not reducing or limiting folks to just one aspect of who they are…I constantly fought being reduced into a box…Soulforce gave me the language of nonviolence in which I learned about words like intersectional and queer and both/and.

In living nonviolence, we must remember that all of us are not just one thing or can be limited/reduced/boxed into one aspect of our mosaic of identities; we are complicated beings whose identities coexist and clash…nonviolence as lived by soulforce affirms and celebrates that we are many identities; in my case queer, trans, catholic, Catholic, latin@, child of immigrants, social worker, theologian, activist, married, sibling, hyphenated US American, person of spirit, scholar, flatfooted, fullfigured, lives with depression…all of the identities make me, me.  I cannot pick and choose or allow systems to pick and choose…its all or nothing.

When we embrace nonviolence it is embracing all of who we are and all of who others are.  Its confusing, its messy, its real.

What are the most important stories to tell? When you think about Soulforce and nonviolence, is there a particular story that comes to mind?

On the 2007 Equality Ride, I co-organized the visit to University of Notre Dame.  As a person raised Roman Catholic and whose relationship with the institutional church has been wrought with many different emotions, the stop took on many different feelings.  It was my first time engaging the possibility of direct action which my family was not a huge fan of.

My mother did not agree with what we were doing and kept telling me that Notre Dame was a private institution who could do what they wanted…leave them alone and focus elsewhere.  Though her maternal practical logic made sense, I couldn’t leave Notre Dame alone.  A message needed to be sent to LGBTQ folks on and off campus of solidarity, a message that church was not limited to the hierarchy in the Vatican or the hierarchies created at Notre Dame…we are all church.

As a Latin@, openly questioning religious figures is a no-no, even if you disagree with a priest or other clergy person, you don’t question much less protest or defy whatever it is they are saying.   Notre Dame was countercultural for me personally and spiritually; I was taking a step of publically calling out the Church and the church on its teachings and practices based on discrimination, contradiction, and severe misunderstanding of sexuality, gender, and Christianity.

It was the first time that I truly understood what it meant to come into voice and that the church was and is the people, not just its leaders.  Change was not limited to the top but could be sparked and spread from the bottom…as a lay person I embraced my prophetic calling of priesthood that all of us receive.

Notre Dame also showed me how activists show their solidarity to each other; when I was escorted out of the student center and interrogated outside the chapel, a cool soft hand gentled touched my hand and my shoulder…I look back to see not only Haven but also Wick who was asking the police force how silencing a group of students and visitors is sound catholic social justice teaching.

Just as I was putting myself out there to show that LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff as well as members of the South Bend community were not alone…I was reminded that I too was not alone and that I had a whole group of folks who were I solidarity with me as we together embodied solidarity with marginalized individuals and groups…who in turn were also in solidarity with us…it was and is a big ol’solidarity lovefest.

Notre Dame was a stepping stone for me; it showed me what it meant to live into and out “grace under fire” and that speaking out against injustice is not a matter of perfection or not being nervous…it is the exact opposite, it is bloopering and risking and leaning into one’s fears and insecurities, reminders that we are human who are learning as we go (and sometimes as we make it up as we go).   Notre Dame was a rebaptism for me…a welcoming into a community and communion of social justice rainbow warriors.

Were there strategic moves that contributed to our success? Do you have any activist tips or details about the action that come to mind that really helped it all to work?

In looking back at Notre Dame and at other actions I have participated in with Soulforce (Methodist Convention, Equality Walk 2008, Vatican Embassy, and Delegate Program), I pick up on things to perhaps do differently but don’t get caught up in dwelling on mistakes made.  Nonviolence is ongoing and evolving practice of taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy.   That written, what I think all of the actions have in common is that it is a mix of individuals who are connected to the challenge being addressed supported by allies who may not fully understand, in this case what it means to be Catholic, but who know that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”   It is about meeting all involved where they are on the journey in order to find ways to co-exist.

Going into Notre Dame ranting how G-d is queer and trans, Jesus bisexual, and the Virgin Mary a feminist along with calling out discrepancies in church teaching and misuse of church power/authority…though this could be a lot of fun, it will also create barriers where conversations are not possible and where the encounter of mutual presence is not created.

However, going in wearing a polo shirt and khakis reciting the prayer of peace attributed to Francis of Assisi while sharing what it meant to go to CCD and praying the rosary as a family and sharing stories of growing up Catholic…that created a safe space for people to come together and talk and more importantly listen.  It was not a proving match of who was more catholic or the right type of catholic, but more of lets share what catholic means to you and how we can create a church where all are welcome truly means all are welcome.

Fast forward to summer 2013 where I led a group of pilgrims to World Youth Day in Rio, many of the lessons learned and insights gained from and with Soulforce helped frame the trip.  We were not angry outsiders participating in the largest gathering of Catholic youth..we were proud and queer Catholic youth who love our church and want to see OUR church welcome and embrace all.

Our message was that all of us are equally blessed and expressed that through sharing rainbow rosaries, rainbow sashes, soulforce /dignity/newways pamphlets, participating in Mass and in Catechesis sessions…our tactic was simple, to simply be Catholic and through that witness, show that a rainbow church is possible.   Similar to other experiences, it was sharing stories rather than getting muddled in theological, ecclesial, and biblical debates (which to be honest we did have those but caught ourselves and moved the conversation back to story sharing).

 Just being us, humanizes that being LGBTQ is just an aspect of who we are and enriches our experience of faith individually as well as communally.

How do you imagine the action would have been different if the commitment to nonviolence was not a core part of Soulforce’s identity?

I don’t think it would have happened and I think the seeds would not have been planted…at Notre Dame as well as in Brazil, we had folks come up and share their stories of being LGBTQ or knowing a LGBTQ person…if we went in violently, those narratives would have been lost.  People may have been pushed deeper into the closet and fractured even more.  Soulforce is about solidarity not imposition, it is not replacing one oppressive dominant narrative with another…it is about being with people and together finding ways to transform community into spaces where all are welcome and where all coexist, across and because and with our differences.

the struggle is real

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the struggle is real

In reflecting over my ongoing sojourn with faith and sexuality, I realize that who I am and the area I seek to evolve is one that both disturbs and is disturbed, changes and is changed. As I look back at my life in an effort to re-remember my re-membering as I wrestle with church teaching, CCD classes, retreats, a home that reinforced what the church expounded, my continuous coming out, and personal beliefs about faith, I am mindful that 12 years ago if I knew what I knew today I would have condemned myself. In searching the hogar within, I realize that growing up I knew that there was something different about me. I had a feeling that I did not feel right in my own body and I was not like other boys or girls. I was confused for a long time and decided not to deal with it. Rather than reconcile my faith and my sexuality, I repressed many feelings that did not fit into the black and white paradigm of gender/sexuality that stemmed from growing up Cuban, conservative, and Catholic. Twelve years ago, this reflection that critiques the Church’s teaching would not have been written, much less having attended Yale Divinity School, being the director of a LGBT Center, and much, much, much less showing my hairy legs and painted toe nails in a skirt I bought I Lane Bryant. In order to survive I unwillingly conformed to the standards imposed on me because I was scared of the ramifications if I did not—I hid behind the smile of the good Catholic boy who was going to be a priest. Being Hispanic, Catholic, and queer did not mesh well. I feared burning in hell, being beat up, and most tragically being a disgrace to my family and their memory. The world was to be black and white with no room for color or even variations of gray, period, no questions asked.

As I began to venture into the world of sexuality and gender, questions, doubts, and issues with gender binaries and expectations began to rise. I began to query my history, cultural worlds, family story, church teaching, and society’s dominant narrative. When I came out in my early twenties, I said I was gay because it was all I knew at the time and it seemed to fit; it was also slightly safer.   I was an oddity in a world of dominating and hierarchical notions of sacred whiteness and holy maleness. I did not fit the stereotype of gay maleness perpetuated by society and the media due to something more that was evolving, growing, and desiring to be birthed in me and in the world. As I learned about the T of LGBTQ, I had a second coming out to myself and to GOD. I was birthed, came into voice, and claimed that I am both/and—I am not an antagonistic dualism. AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! OHHHHHHHH S***!!!!!!!!!

As a Catholic, I feel that I am constantly having to prove myself and my Catholicity. It is a constant struggle of becoming, yet a becoming that is never affirmed, accepted, or celebrated as good enough. Becoming and existing as a person who is both/and is especially hard in the Catholic world that is still figuring out what to do with G and L, much less attempting to engage BTPPQQ and everything else. It is a place where many are quick to silently judge, label, and dismiss my personhood causing this little freak in a skirt to go back into the closet out of fear and survival. My experience thus in life have helped me realize that the grappling of living into and out of one’s faith and sexuality is an on-going one. I realize that I am not alone, there are those who have paved the way before me through their brave questioning of church teaching such as Margaret Farley, Hildegard of Bingen, Gloria Anzaldua, and Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz; and there are those who are paving the way with me like my mother, my beloved, and all I meet along the way of this quirky journey of life.   My lucha is to bare witness to the Catholic Church and take on her teachings; finding ways to be catholic. Coming into my own publicly through the birthing of this delphic delfín will be a labor of revolutionary resilience where GOD is my midwife birthing and re-birthing truth-telling in me and through me.   Amen.

 I have been witness to marvels that affect the nature of the mystical body, for we too, gay men that we are, are also members of that same body…and mind by mind, soul by soul, heart by heart, we are building a consensus fidelium that one day will set us free…for such is the promise of our common baptism and the rights we derive from that sacrament. –E. Stoltz

 In all those times of wrestling with tough issues, with Church leaders, with each other, with disease, I have been pinned down and squeezed, touched, massaged, embraced, cuddled, and, yes, pleasured by a challenging and ever-loving GOD. I have been transformed and reconciled. No longer frightened or ashamed, I am learning to confide in GOD’s love and the love of my fellow wrestlers. After the match is over, I look forward to walking humbly with my GOD, even if it is with a limp. – K. J. Calegari

 

ready or not, welcoming everyone to the feast

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This homily was written and shared by myself and my friend Kate Ward.  We were invited to co-preach at the closing mass/liturgy for Call To Action’s Conference in November 2011.  The homily is based on following readings:
Wisdom 6:12-­‐16
Psalm 63:2-­‐8
1 Thessalonians 4:13-­‐18
Matthew 25:1-­‐13

May we strive to welcome all to the feast!!!

mi lucha of embodying wholehearted celebration

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mi lucha of embodying wholehearted celebration

This piece was written by me for Sunshine Faith, a place to engage spiritual questions through a multiple faith lens.   Visit the site for other reflections by me and others who share our thoughts and insights gained from wrestling with the complicated yet rich worlds of spirituality and life.

Mi lucha, my struggle, has been a journey of going from a black and white world to a world that thrives and abounds with color.

I was raised in a Conservative, Cuban, Catholic home in Miami, Florida where “different” was not accepted and where being outside the box was not an option, period. My family was very involved in church justice work, especially missionary work, advocating for the marginalized was a lifestyle that was a part of me and would evolve over the years. I didn’t realize initially that my desire for solidarity with outcast people would ultimately propel me into queer advocacy.

Growing up, I knew gays and lesbians were out there (other identities like bi or trans were not even on the radar), but I was taught that being gay or lesbian was sinful and immoral. I was taught that it went against my culture as a Hispanic and that it went against the teachings of the church. I adopted these attitudes. However, the universe has an interesting, snarky, and loving sense of humor. Little did I know that the community I spoke out against would later be the community I advocated for and would come to identify with.

The first time I came out, I was 21. I had just returned to the US from studying at a seminary in the Dominican Republic. My church and my family disowned me. When I was 25/26, I had another coming out experience. I realized that I had haphazardly labeled myself as gay because it was the only way I knew to explain who I was. I also realized that this label didn’t truly reflect who I was. Ultimately, I discovered my transgender identity, which represented a family of identities. These identities resonated with me and reflected who I was as a person, theologian, and social worker. They were closer to representing my sexually, spiritually, and gender as a two-spirited or both/and person.

After going through everything other people wanted me to do such as prayer, confession, reparative therapy, and self-bashing, I realized that there had to be another way. The vindictive and judgmental God that was being used to control me and fracture my personhood was not the God of love, solidarity, and compassion that I was raised with. This was the beginning of an arduous and enriching journey of wrestling with God and trying to live into a radical understanding of theology in the world.

My trans identity has been both liberating and frightening. Because our society generally doesn’t understand what it means to be trans and doesn’t protect trans people, transitioning will have an unknown impact on my family and friends. It will affect my relationship with my beloved, my professional goals both short and long term, my relationship with my culture, as I belong to a comunidad that upholds hyper masculinity. It will present financial challenges, and require me to adopt a clinical diagnosis in order to be who I am. I am not ready to fully transition and not sure yet what that will mean for me. However, despite my confusion, I still fight for safer spaces where people can be exactly who they are, whole and complex.

As an activist scholar of faith, a lot of my work has been pushing the margins and making people uncomfortable. I challenge myself and others to consider different ideas, rediscover lost perspectives, and engage in radical revolutionary images and redefinitions. As a Latino/Hispanic, I am finding ways to speak the language of sexual justice in Spanglish linguistically and culturally, redefining ideas of machismo and marianismo and familia, especially for those of us who are hyphenated Americans and experience mixed loyalties to the home countries of our families and to this country where we were born and raised.

I am realizing more and more that those of us who identify with a religious community are being called to actively and boldly speak from our faith experiences. We have done well with using legalistic, clinical, and public health arguments to support our commitment to welcoming all. It is now time to ground our commitment in theological frameworks and to use religious language in our efforts for equality. There are boundless examples from all the world’s religions that we can draw upon in this effort.

Learning to be bold with groups like getEQUAL, Soulforce, Call To Action, and Dignity USA as well as through the reflections here on Sunshine Faith and my own blog, have inspired me to make sure that full equality does not end at the church door. The equality we are achieving in society must ripple into faith communities. What happens in the pews will ripple into the wider world. For me being equally blessed is not about working to create spaces that only tolerate me; the goal is to create spaces that actively, boldly, and wholeheartedly celebrate us with our goods, our quirks, and our whole complex, rich, contradictory, sacred humanity.

a mother’s lucha and pulpit

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a mother’s lucha and pulpit

This link will take you to a video of my mother sharing her lucha as the mother of a queer child and her journey of coming out into wholeness and healing.  The journey of coming out and living into wholeness is not an individual journey but is celebrated and wrestled with en conjunto (in community) with others–it is an ongoing path of discovery of embracing the true meaning of family (For All Moments I Love You).

(my apologies for the shaking and audio)

For resources and support for the loved ones of queer folk, the organizations below are good starting places…

a queerful kindom beyond marriage equality

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a queerful kindom beyond marriage equality

A queerful kindom beyond marriage equality…our resurrection will and must continue

It is with excitement that I look to the marriage equality hearings of Prop 8 and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  These are historic hearings that are being met with much hope, anticipation, and a bit of nervousness.  For me, part of the excitement of these hearings is not necessarily the hearings themselves but the rallies across the country of folks from different backgrounds gathered in solidarity for justice, equality, and the celebration of all relationships.   What also stirs my soul is the excitements for all the work that will and must continue once the hearings come to a close.  I believe Dr King’s words take on special significance today—the arc of history is long and it bends towards justice…we just ain’t finished ‘til everyone can proclaim free at last!

Our dream of queer kindom where all people are celebrated for who they are is far from being fully realized but we are getting there, paso a paso.  Even if these hearings lead to changes in the law, there is much work to be done in rippling whats on paper into people’s hearts.   Marriage Equality is not the end but just a spot to freshen up as we continue to journey and continue la lucha for equality within church and society. 

The War of Independence, the passing of the Women’s Rights Amendments, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the arrests at Stonewall, the life of Harvey Milk, the airing of shows like Modern Family, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell … these moments did not signal the end but marked victories and the re-energizing of our “oomph” to continue living into solidarity with the marginalized, to continue to create a queerful kindom, and to continue challenge unjust systems….essentially, to continue be and embody “to be continued.”

These hearings are taking place during Holy Week, a time of commemorating and celebrating endings and beginnings.  The pain of the Passion that culminated on Good Friday was not the final word…the hope of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday gave birth to community…the transformative moments of the passion and resurrection sparked a new beginning; a beginning of a tribe of followers who would do their best, bloopers and all, to live both the passion and resurrection every day—to live their teacher’s, friend’s, rabbi’s, lover’s, mentor’s radical redemptive message of love and just hospitality.  The apostles and disciples were a resurrection people, a resurrection that we continue to live into today with the witness and proclamation that we are all equally blessed.

It is with this Spirit that we must embrace the historic hearings of Prop 8 and DOMA, not as end goals but as a spark to kindle and rekindle flames to light the ongoing way towards a just and queerful kindom.  Regardless of outcome, we still have to continue the struggle for women’s equality in church and society…creating sanctuary for immigrants through comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform…ensure that our earth is protected from misappropriation and careless destruction…guarantee access to quality healthcare and education for all people especially for those on the margins of the economy…undo systems that oppress and re-victimize survivors of sexualized violence…recreate narratives in support of all who live beyond or between binary understandings of gender through inclusive non-discrimination policies and anti-violence initiatives…continue to make sure that laws which liberate on paper truly liberate in life. 

This moment is a time to recuperate energies, to take a breather, to wash the grime from our faces, to touch up our makeup, iron out any wrinkles in our clothing, relook and tweak strategies, mend and repaint our signs—with renewed hope and chutzpah we continue in la lucha as a resurrection people towards justice and freedom where all truly means all…where queeries and redefinitions are welcome…whre people are embraced for who they are and where complex quirky personhood is cherished…where systems of oppression are replaced with restorative and wholizing structures that hold people in both their brokenness and in their ability to thrive…where content and integrity of character outweigh color of skin and what is between one’s legs and inflection of one’s accent. 

We will have moments to breathe and to recoup, but we must continue the challenging yet celebratory, the painful yet powerful, the trying yet triumphant resurrecting lucha of living into a queerful kindom where are all invited and no one forced to live, love, and laugh beyond the norm.  Amen…que asi sea!!!

preaching begins at home

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preaching begins at home

After saying good morning to GOD, I turn and lovingly gaze at my sleeping beloved. There he lies in los brazos de morfeo…Hair a mess…snoring lightly…bundled up in covers.  Awwww.

I get up in a huff…rushing to get ready for my day…running behind as always.  I come across laundry on the floor, dirty dishes, checklists and cosas para hacer.  Ahhhhhh and Eeeeek.

I come back into the room flustered, frazzled, and furious at things that need to get done and things that did not get done.  But than I look at mi amor who sleeps and is peaceful.  I smile.

I am reminded that mi amor is the embodiment of GOD’s love for me.  That I was divinely favored when he was placed in my life.

Together we are creating a home…clutter is a sign of a home that is being lived in.  Mother Teresa once said that prayer and mission begin in the home.  In the home, too, is where preaching starts…In the casita in which mi amor and I live and love and laugh—that is where my preaching starts…takes shape…is inspired…is born.  For if I do not have a home,  how can I expect to create home for others in my oral and lived sermons?

feature image from:  http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/162852-the-secret-ingredient-your-sermon-is-missing.html