What is Faith?

by | Sep 1, 2023 | 0 comments

I’ve been writing about queer faith for just over one year now. I fell in love, and I’ve barely begun. I’ve spoken with queer Jewish, Pagan, Christian, and Muslim leaders. I heard clearly, queerly, from a leader in Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism the call to wake up and just do the damn work. In upcoming articles I will speak with people who understand faith as separate from religion, and I name in my own life the many atheist and agnostic people who are central to my own journey, all people who believe deeply in community and believe deeply in love.

I am in seminary (graduating in May of 2024). I preach at a church. I speak openly of inclusive love at my queer Farmers’ Market Chaplaincy most Saturdays on the Capitol Square. Each week I give away hundreds of trans-celebratory stickers (Trans is Beautiful). People write affirmations and drop worries into tiles (at the new moon I perform a ritual at the water to release those worries—I always ask permission from the water first). I sing. I move my hips and dance to the music of the crowd.

I am just a woman, queerly speaking love, saying on repeat that each person passing is wonderful or amazing or beautiful or all of the above, giving out affirmation unasked-for but so needed. And I am met by so much love. People cry each week in joy, not because they have found the same faith as me, but because someone in my faith can be openly queer—a Rainbow on the Corner—affirming them in the faith that is their own, whatever and wherever that faith is rooted (but always, regardless if secular or religious, the faith I meet grows from love).

And I am met by so much hate. Much of that hate in the form of that polite Midwestern dismissal of tightened lips, stiffened bodies, quickened gaits. The hate that stares when it thinks we don’t see (we see). The hate that sneers or steers their children quickly past the queer Giantess speaking love while the children stare back—I never mind the stares of children. Some of them are queer and haven’t yet seen evidence in their lives of queer joy and love defiant. Let them stare. Some of them will find their own way to faith in being who they know they are against what their society says they can’t be.

But what is faith? 

For many Christians, it seems, faith is rules of who is in and who is out. Faith is what they believe gets them to heaven. I had a conversation with a classmate in seminary who was in an existential crisis, “But what if what I believe about God wasn’t real?” I don’t have that worry. It doesn’t matter to me if God is real or if God is metaphor. Heaven isn’t my point in life nor is it the point of the Bible.

Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven, not much anyway. And hell isn’t even a thing. Jesus teaches us about radical welcome. Jesus’ teachings are always to lift the most marginalized. Jesus’ teachings, in a deeply misogynistic world, lift women, center women, call women to leadership again and again. The core of the Christian Bible is God come incarnate, co-created in the womb of an unwed teenage mother in a land under occupation. Marginalization on marginalization.

And we don’t understand Black Lives Matter? We don’t understand the need to center Black transgender women? Jesus’ teachings, reflecting Jesus’ Jewish world, are teachings of justice.

Faith is justice 

Where do you root your faith? Mine is rooted queerly. I root my faith in the hope Mary sang predicting a world of justice to come, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46-55) and from the commands Jesus gave to the disciples, the men and women who followed Jesus, to love God with all their heart and love their neighbor as themselves. Let me break these calls down.

Love God. Do we understand that? Too often I hear colleagues say banalities like, “It means accepting God or Jesus in our hearts.” But really? How does that even truly work? How do you love when you love? When I fall in love with my wife, with friends, with new moments in life, I listen. I want to know about them. I pay attention. How do we pay attention to God or the Divine? By reading the Bible? Sure. The Bible is one way we can engage in conversation. But let’s not imagine it’s an only.

The idea that there would be an “only” in something so vast as God is absurd. If we love God, why aren’t we also sitting with our Pagan family in Circle? Why are we not reading the Koran or sitting with Buddhist neighbors in contemplation or conversation? Why are we not listening to atheists who work to uplift others in justice? Why are we not listening with every person who thinks of a world bigger than themselves in this conversation with the Divine.

And what about all the other ways we can listen and be present with God? We hear in Genesis that the language of God is not Greek or Hebrew or Latin or English or any human language. God says light and there is light. God’s language is the language of creation. God’s word for the tree outside my window is the entire life cycle of that tree, from seed to decay. When we understand that we live in the language of God, how does it change how we love God? Do we understand the desecration of the conversation when we pave over the words of God with unnecessary parking lots for extra lanes of traffic? Do we call it love when we rape the land digging pipelines into soil sacred to Indigenous people who have lived on this land for generations uncounted?

Faith is Love 

Love your neighbor. This. Just this. And how do we love, again? In my heart, we talk. We truly listen. In my work as a public face of queer joy at my card table sanctuary at the Farmers’ Market, I also attract people who come to me claiming they “just want to understand,” but who are rooted in anger and dismissal of queer and especially trans. These people rarely come to truly talk. They replace conversation with talking-points and, at best, wait to launch their next practiced bon mot after I’ve worked to give them understandings that they didn’t have before. I was a teacher. For decades. So I’m fairly practiced at reading people. I will listen to these people that come to talk at me, then I share that I am here to talk with them. I ask that they let go of the next zinger and instead tell me something meaningful about what they love. Truly. If we fall in love, then we fall into true stories shared. It doesn’t always work. But I won’t stop trying.

Queerly loving ourselves, faithfully. This is the last part of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Each day I fall in love again. Do you think that means I’m always happy? Love isn’t always easy or happy. Love is also angst and frustration and real care. Love is breaking down in tears because I’ve opened myself up to feelings. Life was easier, in some ways, when I wore the mask of the man society insisted I must labor under. I didn’t allow myself to feel. I tried so hard to not let myself feel anything. But I open myself. I laugh now. I smile. I sing. And I cry. I break down in big,  messy sobs, and I struggle to breathe in the absolute beauty of everything. If I let myself see it, if I let go of my own talking points, my own practiced words, and instead stand speechless before whatever it is that we stand within. God? The Divine? The Source? Simple human companionship? It truly does not matter to me how any of us call it, just that we all join in conversation, together.

For me, faith, as I begin to understand, is a friend holding out a hand, or offering a hug. Faith is standing, shoulders bumping, looking at the grandeur of the ocean or the mountains or the leaves fallen at the base of an aging oak tree or the touch of hands in soil feeling the decay becoming growth.

Faith is a year’s worth of stories from queer voices and allies, and more years of stories to come. What conversations do you have? How do you love your neighbor and yourself and all that we stand in within this vast world? How do you live faith?

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