the words that marked our beginning

My name is Jazz. I went to a Christian school, a Christian seminary - graduated from one, dropped out of the other. I came out as gay, was fired for it, and hated myself for a long time. The self-hate led me to the door of a mental health facility in 2016. The story below is from that time in that place. I wrote this blog 8 months after leaving that place. I learned that I could love myself in that place. So I wanted to share it with others. I called it You Are Welcome Here. This post is what started all of this. I hope it helps you all to get to know me and You Are Welcome Here a little better. So here it is: the words that marked our beginning. 

In preparation for my discharge, I began gathering my things: a plastic tub full of toiletries and a folder filled with a dozen photocopied coloring book pages. In between meeting with therapists, doctors, and psychiatrists, I had a lot of time on my hands. I spent hours coloring – filling in the intricate designs with an array of different colors. I often sat next to at least two or three other women, swapping stories and colored pencils until our next meal or group therapy session. We sat together at a long family-style table, which provided moments of safety and solace – though fleeting.

One moment we would be full with laughter as we shared guesses as to what questionable food lay on our plates, while the next moment would call our attention to the open door, entering another woman on a stretcher. In an instant we were beckoned back to reality.

We were that woman.
We are that woman.
She is in pain.
We are in pain.
She is broken.
We are broken.
Together.

The rhythm of welcoming was the same each time the door opened. This occasion proved to be no different. Once the woman was settled, she joined us at the table. Without a gaze of judgment or a word of condemnation, the woman sitting next to me slid the folder full of coloring book pages toward our new friend, while another offered a bouquet of colored pencils. I can’t remember how the woman reacted to the welcome, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter if she smiled or frowned or offered no expression at all. She was going to receive her welcome.

On my first day there I, too, had the chance to partake in this welcoming. After living through the darkest night of my life, I was welcomed to the table. They did not care that I arrived on a stretcher, because they did too. They did not bat an eye when I told them I tried to die, because they tried too. They gave no mind to how young I was or how little I had accomplished in my life. I did not have to explain who I was before being invited to the table. Ushered in with colored pencils, I received my welcome.

I find it ironic that believing I was not welcome in this world is what led me to this hospital. For years I tried to be the person that I believed everyone else desired me to be. I gave my time to fighting and proving and explaining my humanity to people who could not hear me. I poured out my heart in love and service to those who I knew were never going to be able to accept all of me. I fought hard for my welcome, but that welcome denied me. I soon came to believe that if some Christians could not welcome me because I was gay, then maybe Jesus felt the same. Maybe his welcome was not for me.

Many who have known me might pushback and assert that I was welcomed, wholeheartedly. Indeed, pieces of me were welcomed – versions of me. Yet pieces and versions are not the whole of a person. At best they are representations; at worst, they are lies. The welcome I received at the hospital ought to have been the one I received in my Christian community. Full stop.

Because it was in that welcome – with those women, at that table, holding colored pencils -- where I experienced Jesus: the all-encompassing, inclusive embrace of Jesus. An embrace that welcomes you, pulls out your chair, and passes you the colored pencils. The kind of welcome that says:

Your sorrow is welcomed,
your joy, too.
Welcome, your humanity,
your reality,
your love,
Your frustration,
your patience,
your passion.
Yes, your rage – bring that, too.
Welcome, you who have been formed in my image and likeness.
Welcome to you.
I saved a seat for you.
Welcome.
Here are some colored pencils, too.

It's Time

Recently, I learned that eight out of ten people around the world identify with a religion.  While Christianity leads major religious groups with 32% of the world’s population (2.2 billion people), other religions are not far behind, including 1.6 billion Muslims, 1 billion Hindus, 500 million Buddhists, 14 million Jews, and over 400 million people that practice a folk or traditional religion.

I was curious about these numbers because as I read news headlines (again and again and again) I am continually reminded of how divisive faith communities tend to be. Strife and division is embedded in the human inclination to have power and to “to be right.” For many, religious coexistence is a pipe dream and impossible to navigate when religions yield great powers in many of the counties that exist.

Of course, like it is written in Ecclesiastes, a book from the bible,

What has been will be again,

What has been done will be again;

There is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

There is nothing new under the sun. Religious indifference and contention has been with us since the 16th century– when “religion” became associated with group doctrine and not just individual, practicing belief.

However, many of the world’s religions and faith systems do hold on to tenets of peace and unity. In this, there remain many peaceful practitioners of these faiths around the world. Now, more than ever, it is the peaceful, unified intentions of faith that we so badly need. Moreover, interfaith dialogue is a pressing inevitability, particularly within the LGBTQIA+ community, as faith traditions have a unique opportunity to offer safe spaces for a group of people that have traditionally been rejected from these very communities.

You Are Welcome Here (YAWH) is forging the path for how inclusion (within faith communities) can be done. When the conference takes place next year in October, we will not only model what it looks like to bring together many faiths, but what it looks like for these faith traditions to extend openness, inclusion, and affirmation to the LGTBQIA+ community. This is historical and not to be overlooked; it is in this generation that LGBTQIA+ rights are coming to fruition and that recognition, legally, spiritually, and everything in between is taking place. After all, it was only just two years ago, in 2015, when same sex marriage was finally passed on the federal level.

Because of this, YAWH is in a unique position to carry gains that have been won in the past decade, and extend this into religious community. This presents a new opportunity for the “Church” – that is, to stand as a leader for interfaith, inclusive, and affirming stances, largely rooted in love. Too often, the church and other faith communities are sidelined in political debates that become about “issues” and not about the people themselves. Faith, at its core, is about love. It is time that faith communities – from wherever they come – lead the way for LGTBQIA+ involvement, inclusion, and importantly, celebration.

I look forward to advancing this movement and believe that YAWH will be a big part of moving the needle of faith and sexuality a little further, showing people that love wins, and it always will.

You – we – all of us – we are welcome here.

Let’s get to work.

 

Let Us Begin Anew

I don’t remember its beginning. I can only point to memories that trace its presence throughout my life. These memories return in phrases most of the time.

“You’re a risk.”

“You’re just not praying hard enough.” 

"Well, you had to have done something wrong.”

“Be off campus by noon tomorrow.”

These phrases cut to the core of my being – they shamed me, named me. As they were spoken over me, I bowed my head to receive them. I decided, “If this is what people think of me, then this must be what I am.” I walked slow, heavy-footed – each step leading me further away from Love. I thought it – self-hate – had won.

Then I met Bonnie. She was my therapist. I was her patient. Self-hate led me to Bonnie’s mental health facility, but she was determined that it would not leave me there.

“Jasmine, my daughter graduated from a Christian university. She got her degree in theology, she is gay – and she’s getting married to her partner this summer. I believe you can flourish and have a life full of love and freedom, but you have to believe it for yourself. You’ve been taught to hate yourself – it’s time to learn how to love.”

This reframing, renaming, opened me to receive what Bonnie had offered me – a welcome to be wholly and fully myself. It is in this same spirit that we – my beautiful friends and I – present You Are Welcome Here.

For those who suffer for being who they are, you are welcome here.

For those who long to find someone who understands, you are welcome here.

For those who have been led by self-hate for too long, you are welcome here.

For those who yearn to gain what has been lost, you are welcome here.

For those who weep;

For those who writhe in pain;

For those who long to be loved for exactly who they are;

You Are Welcome Here.

Let us begin anew – together.