Praxis over Politics

My social media feeds are full of debates. Debates about expansive love, debates about the existence of all sorts of folks, debates about making reasonable adjustments in church, debates about whether yesterday was Easter Saturday or St. George’s Day. And when I saw that last one, I really wanted to scream! For goodness sake…

Last night I was out and about in Cambridge. I saw and met beautiful and articulate queer folks. I smiled when I walked past a couple holding hands. I envied the awesome dreadlocks on the head of a person sitting with their dog on the pavement. I saw teenagers huddled in a dark stairway talking. I laughed with the slightly merry person in their twenties who tried to wave and stumbled, almost into me. I witnessed folks making space, living together, organising together. Folks who are undoubtedly different from each-other, but couldn’t care less. I witnessed Christ on the streets of Cambridge. They – we, because I am like them – don’t need pity, or salvation, or to change. You need them – us – to imagine a different reality for all of us. A reality in which every person is actually named and heard and loved and held and protected.

Between reading, and to my detriment responding to a few of, the objectifying, abstract debates and walking amongst the real people, I went to a talk about the book Experiments in Imagining Otherwise by Lola Olufemi. Olufemi’s thesis, as I understand it, is that we live out the future we want to see in the present day and witness to those who organised for change in the past by imagining otherwise. We create a more expansive world by living in it, even in our narrowed present. We stay alive by dreaming up the real hard work of being community for and with each-other, radically resisting the dystopian othering that we are constantly being pulled towards by creating space together. Olufemi explained that ‘The past present and future are not these distinct regimes. What if we live in the future now? What if the past reminds us that time is a spiral?’ and that we can ‘understand imagination as a material force’. I’m probably not doing the book justice – you should read it and, as Olufemi asks, interact with it – this is a living text.

In the q&a, I asked Olufemi how we might stay alive – how we might best respond in a culture of debate in which folks fight to pry open closed binary systems every day by just existing. Olufemi, in answering, reminded me that ‘When your life is reduced to fodder for debate it is a tactic to stop you from existing in public life’. A point I know, but often brush off. Not now. Enough. I won’t be fodder for debate any more. I exist. I dare to exist in public. Enough talking about it.

And how does this relate to my – our – ministry? Well, Olufemi pointed out that ‘capitalism is the consumer spectacle we are left with when beliefs collapse to the point of ritual’ – and I agree. Church often fetishes dates and saints, rituals and rules, even human bodies, collapsing lived realities into rituals which feed a consumerist religious right. Enough. Do you think that the Jesus who lived on the streets feeding the hungry, defending the oppressed, and challenging the righteous would give two hoots about when St. George’s day is? Enough.

I believe in people. I believe that’s where Christ – whoever you see them as – lives. Let me remind you: Last night I was out and about in Cambridge and I saw and met people who I believe in. I saw and met beautiful folks walking the way by queering and dismantling binaries with their bodies and their words. I smiled when I walked past a couple walking the way with hands clasped in love. I envied the awesome dreadlocks on the head of a person walking the way by reclaiming public space. I saw teenagers walking the way by talking together, creating their own safer space. I laughed with the slightly merry person walking – well, stumbling – the way with a gentle smile; greeting strangers openly. I witnessed folks walking the way by making space, living together, organising together. Folks who are undoubtedly different from each-other, but couldn’t care less. Folks who are imagining otherwise by just living. Folks who need – no, demand – space to breathe.

For me, that is the task of ministry. Pioneer ministry, in particular, is a ministry of ‘imagining otherwise’. Of being with people, not talking about them, or being talked about. Being a part of real spaces for organising. For change. Not simply sighing at the news. Living out the future that we seek, and the past that inspires, today in radically inclusive, campaigning, life-changing communities that live in a transformative imagination, speak from a transforming script, and walk on a transformed path. Not complaining about decline and pews and who believes what. Enough with the debates. Enough with talking about it. Enough with the small stuff. Today is our past, our present, and our future. Let’s imagine it anew. Let’s not be fodder for debate. Let’s live our lives in the public square, organising and imagining the life we dream into being together. May it be so.

Good Friday Fun?

Good Friday in Cambridge was full of contradictions.

Some folks carrying crosses through the street while others shop for the best bargains… Dissonance or harmony? Frisby in the park through to sunset with the words ‘Father, forgive them’ ringing in my head from the evening service… Grace or extravagance? Churches shutting the doors to wait out a solemn night whilst people get dressed up to head into town… Faith or fear? Shots in revs with colleagues or pints with family in the Cambridge tap whilst bullets split the tarmac of city streets an ocean away… Freedom or forgetting?

My reflections aren’t intended to judge or criticise but, rather, to highlight the nuances and differences in the lenses through which we experience life and, particularly, this holy or happy weekend. As I head to Wetherspoons for a Holy Saturday fry-up, I marvel at the authentic beauty of each person I have seen, and wonder how we might live life fully together without compromise or misunderstanding.

Speaking Sorrow Writing Joy

Yesterday, I spoke to ITV news about the pain caused to LGBTQ+ young people, particularly trans and non-binary young people, by attempted conversion ‘therapy’ – spiritual abuse. I spoke about painful experiences I had a long time ago and a long way away. They were targeted towards the whole of my very being – aiming to change my sexuality and my gender presentation, intended to make me look and behave ‘like a normal girl’ – whatever that means! They had a very serious impact, which lasted for many years and still effects me today. Back when I was a teenager, it caused crippling anxiety to the extent of physical illness.

I had to speak about these experiences, because the government is threatening to remove protection for trans people from the proposed bill banning conversion ‘therapy’. I strongly believe that this is not only wildly unjust, with some commenters having referred to the omission as torture, but also technically impossible. My abusers didn’t know that I am trans, they tried to impact my sexuality and, in doing so, addressed gender norms and presentation. In other words, gender and sexuality can not be so easily uncoupled when responding to religious intolerance and spiritual abuse. T cannot be simply extracted from LGB. Our experiences are different but intertwined.

That’s not really what I want to write about here, though. Rather, I need to address the tone and content of my segment. I spoke to the presenter for some twenty minutes, mostly about how conversion therapy impact trans people, the complex links between gender and sexuality, and the ways in which trans peoples’ dignity and safety are being repeatedly attacked in the U.K. at present. I spoke about politics and theology, as well as my own lived experience. Perhaps it is inevitable that the short clip extracted from that conversation shows me telling the most painful parts of my story, speaking out of emotion, not knowledge. I don’t blame the brilliant presenter, editor and producer telling the story. They have to create the clips that make an impact, not the ones that make us feel good about ourselves.

Sometimes I wonder if I should stop telling my story for this reason. It is rather tiring to speak repeatedly about what you know and what you do, to only be highlighted for who you are and what you have suffered. I know that this is difficult for those who care about me too. Further, most of my writing these days is about trans euphoria, trans joy. Those are the topics that trans and non-binary people today want to focus on, and I love that. I love celebrating our lives, our talents, and our ordinary and yet extraordinary identities. That’s the real story. The genuinely fascinating bit of news is that trans and non-binary folks are everywhere, loving our lives and changing the world for the better. That is so much more interesting than the bits of our lives where we are abused and suffering.

The reality of trans joy is echoed in the letter that sparked yesterday’s interview:

And yet… and yet change is so desperately needed. If we never talk about the ways in which we have been hurt, the people who get hurt next will feel all the more alone. If we never challenge the institutions and individuals who have abused us, then they will continue to abuse more people. If we never put our hands up and say, “Hey, this is what it feels like!”, then who will take the need to protect us seriously? I yearn for a future where I can spend all of my time talking, as well as writing, about trans joy. But we just aren’t there yet.

Do I wish that yesterday’s segment had said a bit more about who I am today, than what I suffered over a decade ago? Of course I do. But I don’t wish I’d omitted my own, true, painful lived experiences from the interview. All I can do is tell my truth, write our theory, and continue to speak out. I will leave you with this amazing song which my strong and courageous mum shared with me. If you are a campaigner, if you speak out about your joy and people only hear your pain, if you use your past to change our future, this is for you.

We came to Iona…

We came to Iona seeking a gentle path, and we walked a labyrinthine maze. The Child darting chaotically through twists and turns.

We came to Iona hoping to be changed. And perhaps we were. But we also learnt how beautiful and strong and vulnerable and precious we are. The Creator inspecting their handiwork and, indeed, we are good.

We came to Iona seeking a smooth crossing, and we travelled on rough seas. The Creator woven in and through and in between.

We came to Iona carrying heavy bags, and we emptied them out in the company of strangers and friends. The Wild Goose stripping layers off of our emotional clothing.

We came to Iona seeking beauty and peace. And what we saw and felt was overflowing with both. But we also found boreholes and rocky climbs, hoovering and paraffin, conflict and bloody hard work. The Human in our calloused hands, touch and believe.

Gathered and scattered,

God is with us.

In hard work and bitter tears,

God is with us.

In faith and in doubt,

God is with us.

God is in us.

Churspacious Retro

As you may know, my time with Churspacious ends soon. Churspacious is going on to – I am sure – do amazing things. But, in the mean time, I thought we could look back on where we’ve been with some little retrospectives.

Who are we?

Some of our favourite conversation starters:

I’m gonna miss you, little orange fish!