Galileo Church

Quirky church for spiritual refugees. Who would Jesus love?

Weekly worship, Sundays at 5 p.m.
at the Big Red Barn
5860 Interstate 20 service road
Fort Worth 76119
(use the zip code in your GPS for accuracy)

Mail comes here: 6563 Teague Road, Fort Worth, TX 76140

Contact us: 817-773-3147 | info@galileochurch.org

Our missional priorities:
1. We do justice for LGBTQ+ humans.
2. We do kindness for people with mental illness and in emotional distress, and celebrate neurodiversity.
3. We do beauty for our God-Who-Is-Beautiful.
4. We do real relationship, no bullshit, ever.

Remembering Finn

Finn Spicer was not yet 19 when illness and death came quickly. Galileo grieved this loss and celebrated God's faithfulness with Finn's family and many beloveds at a funeral service on January 6, 2018. Katie H. offered this remembrance.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 

Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:1-9)


Now that several of Finn’s beloveds have spoken, there’s little that I need to add; the collective memories of the people who love Finn would fill volume after volume on miles of shelves. But allow me to add just this: that it was one of the great privileges of my life to pastor one of Jesus’s own favorites.

Oh, I know it doesn’t sound quite right that the Lord himself would play favorites among the billions of God’s beloved children. But it’s clear from the stories in the gospels that he did. He clearly favored those who were small; those who were vulnerable; those who were, shall we say, uncelebrated by a culture too rough to recognize what is truly beautiful in God’s sight.

He said it that day, right there on that mountainside where his followers gathered, thinking perhaps he would give them marching orders for the revolution against the powers that oppressed them. But instead, he gave them a list of congratulations that sounds at first like a cruel joke.

“Congratulations to those who are sick and sad [those that are mourning]! Congratulations to those whose voices cannot be heard or understood [the meek]! Congratulations to those who don’t have what they need to succeed [those that are poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting for justice]! Congratulations to those who are more kind to others than others are to them [the merciful]! Congratulations to those who don’t hide themselves, those pure in heart, those without sufficient guile to trick the rest of us into thinking they are something they’re not. Congratulations to the lovers, not the fighters [the peacemakers].

“Congratulations to you, little ones,” Jesus said, “because everything God has belongs to you. God’s kingdom is yours, God’s comfort is yours, God’s earth is yours, God’s provision, God’s mercy, God’s own shining face, adoption as God’s own children – God has chosen you for all these prizes. God holds nothing back from you, because you are God’s favorites.”

And so is there any question that Finn is one of God’s favorites?

At our church we begin worship each week with a query, an old question that people of faith have been asking each other for a long time. “How goeth it with thy soul?” we ask, and we take two minutes to talk about it with whomever we’re sitting next to. Some of you know that for just about the entire time the Blythe family was in my church, Finn sat next to me on the very front row, with a notepad and pen, ready to draw and take notes throughout the service. But when the query came, Finn would stop writing and wait for me. “How goeth it with thy soul?” I would ask. About half the time Finn would talk for the whole two minutes. I confess I often didn’t catch all the details, but the honor of Finn sharing life with me was no less for my lack of understanding.

The other half of the time Finn would give a shake of the head; didn’t want to talk. But Finn would listen to me, nodding sympathetically to whatever I poured out about the state of my soul. And knowing as I did that Finn is one of God’s favorites, I felt that God, too, was especially attentive to me in those weeks.

From that front row in our little church, I prayed with Finn, and sang with Finn – Finn sang with gusto, my favorite way to sing, too. I served communion with Finn, lots of Sundays, as I often forget to ask someone before the service, and Finn knew the drill and would join me at a moment’s notice if I asked. Usually with a look of reproach, because Finn knew I was scrambling, but Finn never turned me down.

And one beautiful day, Finn and I baptized Song together. We sat on opposite sides of the cattle trough and cooperated to get her in and out of that water. It remains one of the holiest moments in history, in my estimation. Because of, you know, what Jesus said about Finn: pure in heart; blessed are those; blessed is Finn.

See, it’s not just that Finn was an excellent specimen of a human being. I mean, that’s true, no question. It’s that Finn helped so many of us recalibrate our own sense of what makes a human being excellent, what God actually wants from and for us. We receive our Lord’s congratulation insofar as we are like Finn. And so to have lived any part of this life alongside Finn, to have been invited into Finn’s heart, is valuable beyond measure. I am forever grateful. Thanks be to God. 

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Querying for the New Year

12/31/2017

Every Sunday of the world, Galileo Church begins worship with a query. We say, “A query is an old question that people of faith have been asking each other for a long time. A query reminds us to bring our whole selves into this space, all our experiences, all our life. Nothing left outside.”

We rotate through four queries, one per Sunday, a couple of which we copied directly from Quaker practice, a couple of which we modified a bit:

from the prayer wall in the Big Red Barn

from the prayer wall in the Big Red Barn

1. How goeth it with thy soul?

2. Where did you see God in the week just past?

3. What is your body saying to your spirit tonight?

4. How are you further along tonight than this time last week?

We take two minutes to process our answers. Some of us talk it over with somebody nearby. Some of us bow our heads and close our eyes. Stephanie strums gentle chords to mute the sounds of talking, whispering, praying.

Some people really hate the Query – they’d rather not think these thoughts, or they’d just like to get out of their own heads for a while. Some people really hate one of the Queries, and when that one comes around every fourth week, they groan. (The one you dislike is somebody else’s favorite, I promise.) Some nights it’s hard to come up with an answer. It’s okay to say, “Huh. I have no idea.” Which is, itself, an important thing to notice.

But mostly, people come to love it. They understand the signal we’re sending – that your experiences, your thoughts, your voice, your not-knowing, are welcome here. All of you is welcome here. In fact, we can’t imagine starting worship without all of you. Get your whole messy, beautiful self in here so we can situate ourselves before our God-Who-Is-Beautiful together.

On New Year’s Eve, I’m thinking these Queries could be s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d to encompass the year we are finishing. It would take more than two minutes, I think, to ask and answer, concerning 2017:

1. How goeth it with my soul at the end of this year?

2. Where did I see God in the year just past?

3. What has my body been saying to my spirit this year?

4. How am I further along at the end of the year than I was at the beginning?

What if you used these Queries as journal prompts for the first couple of weeks of 2018? What if your G-Group took them up as conversation starters for the first month of the year? What if you asked a trusted friend to meet you for Coffee & Queries, and worked through them together?

Oh, here's a thought: What if you thought about how you want to answer these questions at the end of next year, and put practices in place to get you to those answers?

If you try it, let us know how it turns out. We are actually interested in how it goeth with thy soul. 

Find a New Church!

When Galileo people move on from here, literally to a new city or even state, I'm often asked to help them find a church family, "one like Galileo," near their new home. It's rare that I have a specific suggestion. But here's what I share about what it's like to search for a new band of travelers with whom to share this Christian journey.

Friends, I'm glad you asked. God's good people are everywhere in the world. I really believe this. Whether they've formed communities that look like Galileo isn't guaranteed, but still: God's good people, everywhere in the world, even Miami [or Roanoke or Plano or wherever]. ;) 

Here are some things I hope you'll remember after your boxes are unpacked and you find the grocery store and gas station:

1. Churches deserve several chances to show you who they are. More than one visit is important. Not every Sunday at Galileo is our best Sunday, you know? And if a church has gatherings other than Sunday, try those a couple of times, too. Some of our best stuff happens on Tuesday nights at Fuzzy's, or Wednesday morning at AB Coffee, or somebody's living room.

2. Sometimes you can find a little "church within a church," like a young adult subgroup that is doing life together, no bullshit, within the larger structure of a traditional church. It might take a little while to find it; they don't show up in your Google search.

3. Don't underestimate your power to form the church you want simply by being present and sharing yourself. The church IS the people, and if you become part of the people, the church starts to look more like you from the very first time you start sharing yourself in that space. Galileo is not Galileo; Y'ALL/WE are Galileo. Same with other churches. You know what I mean?

4. It was always the hope of the Galileo originals that what we learn by doing community together would be exportable to other places, because Millennials are mobile, and y'all are all going to live somewhere else eventually. If this way of Christian community hasn't equipped you to be/make the church you want to go to, we haven't done our work very well. :) 

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5. Take care not to idealize the experience of Galileo -- it is soooo human, as we've learned recently, and has never been exactly right about anything for everybody. It's important to know where our broken places are so that you can see the advantages of a community that's significantly different than ours -- because they have some stuff figured out that we're still stumbling through. 

6. Be brave. You are God's address. The Spirit of the risen Christ lives in you. You have the power of discernment, and you can do this. But don't neglect to do it while you're feeling strong -- because while God doesn't need the church, God knows we do, or will eventually. Get some people to travel this path with. That's what a church should be, ideally. 

7. Remember how hard it was to find Galileo, and how miraculous it seemed when we discovered each other? Well, if God worked in your life once, what makes it any less likely that God would work in your life again? I'm praying for you. I hope to hear all about your explorations, your earnest and energetic efforts to find the right place. You are so loved. Keep the faith. Peace.

A prayer for Trans Day of Remembrance service 2017

On November 18, Trans-Cendence International and Galileo Church hosted a TDOR service to honor the struggle of trans and gender-diverse people. This bidding prayer was offered at the beginning of the service.

O God of creative energy and power, God of nothing-spoken-into-something, God of all that is and has been and ever shall be, you are the Artist of life, and we are your artwork. With your hands you have formed us from the dust of the ground; with your mouth you have blown your Spirit into our lives. You have made us in your own image; male AND female you have made us, not either/or, but both, and all. Our beauty is reflective of your own: because you are beautiful, we are beautiful.

Friends, let us pause to contemplate our own beauty in the light of our Creator’s beauty.

[light first candle; strike the bell]

 

O God of our ancestors, God of humanity through the ages, you know that our beauty is marred by brokenness. We your people have defaced the earth, spoiling the air and land and water. But nothing is as tragic as the way human beings hurt one another. Those who are made in your beautiful image look on the faces of one another and see something to fear, or hate, or hurt. Tonight we are especially aware of how your trans and gender-diverse children have suffered under the cruel hands of fear and hate.

Friends, let us pause to contemplate the hurt that the trans community has endured.

[light second candle; strike the bell]

 

O God of power, strong Shepherd of the flock, we plead your protection for the vulnerable ones in our world. For the poor, for children, for those in places that are wrecked by violence and warfare. Tonight we are especially mindful of the vulnerability of those who do not conform to society’s expectations for physical appearance and gendered roles. We ask for your strong arm and mighty hand to cover the trans and gender-diverse community with protection. We ask you to grant courage to those who face the potential for harm every single day.

Friends, let us pause to contemplate our own vulnerability, and ask God’s protection.

[light third candle; strike the bell]

 

O God of compassion, gentle Mother of us all, we know that when we weep, you weep along with us. Tonight there will be tears as we push ourselves to remember the lost lives of those who fell victim to the violence of bigots and hatemongers. There will be tears as we consider our own vulnerabilities. We ask that you would be near to the brokenhearted, as you have promised; we ask that you come near to us tonight as we move more deeply into our remembrance. We pray that our remembrance will grow the seeds of compassion in our own hearts.

Friends, let us pause to dwell in God’s compassion for us, and our own compassion for each other.

[light fourth candle; strike the bell]

 

Katie of Galileo Church and Olivia of Trans-Cendence Int'l.

Katie of Galileo Church and Olivia of Trans-Cendence Int'l.

O God of empowerment, God who hates injustice, God whose Spirit fills us and transforms us, make us strong. Strengthen us to stand against injustices large and small. Fortify us for legislative battles when the civil rights of trans and gender-diverse people are threatened. Shore us up to push back against belittling portrayals of trans and gender-diverse persons in entertainment. Help us to speak up against micro-aggressions and bullying and public harassment and obvious discrimination. Reinforce the bank accounts of organizations that fight for the rights and dignity of all people, and especially trans and gender-diverse people. Make us strong, for ourselves and for each other.

Friends, let us pause to feel our own strength increasing for the battles that lie ahead.

[light fifth candle; strike the bell]

 

O God of human connection, Lover of love, be present in our relationships. Where our families of origin fail us, give us a sparkling rainbow of many colors, our family of choice. Redouble the love that those gathered here tonight feel for each other, and may that love kindle a blazing bonfire of love for every trans and gender-diverse person out there who does not yet know that they are not alone. There is power in community. There is mercy in belonging. Bind us together in love, we pray.

Friends, let us pause to give thanks for the love that is in this room tonight.

[light sixth candle; strike the bell]

 

O God of light and truth, whose radiance shines through the darkness, be light for us in the gloom of this night. Expose what is most broken in this world, and illuminate the way forward. We long for the day when a Trans Day of Remembrance will no longer be necessary; a day when all your beautiful children across the whole spectrum of multiple identities will feel themselves welcome in each other’s hearts. Your promises of protection and compassion, empowerment and love, have begun to brighten. Shine forth, O God, and show us the way.

Friends, let us pause to dream about a future when fear and hatred have faded into memory, and love reigns in the hearts of all.

[light seventh candle; strike the bell]

 

O non-gendered, non-gendering God, our lives are in your hands, and you never let us go, even in death. We know you have received the souls of trans and gender-diverse people who have died this year and through the decades; we know that they are held in your heart, as they are in ours. For your presence among us tonight, we give you thanks. Amen.

Overspend, Overspend! For the Love of God, Overspend!

September 2017

We need your help. We overspent, by a lot. And we’re still spending.

Here’s what happened. In our 2017 Ministry Finance Plan, we budgeted $1,800 on “justice for LGBTQ+ people.” It should have been enough.

But who knew 2017 would be like this? Who knew the Texas State Legislature, in particular, would devote so much energy to stripping the rights and dignity of LGBTQ+ people (heavy emphasis on “T”)? Who knew the national environment of acceptance and fairness would melt so quickly under a new administration? (Okay, maybe you knew, but we didn’t.)

So we have spent more money that we planned. Like, a lot more. On things like these:

•    January: We took rainbow-frosted donuts to protest (sweetly) the anti-LGBTQ meanness mailed from a nearby church to every household in that town.

•    January: We sent two learners to the Gay Christian Network conference in Pittsburgh.

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•    January: We sent six learners to the Texas Tribune's Race & Public Policy conference in Austin.

•    February: We hosted a visit, a seminar, and a sermon from Rev. Allyson Robinson, pastor-preacher-trans-activist.

•    February: We sent one learner to ClexaCon in Las Vegas, a conference advocating for queer women in TV and movie storylines. (We're pretty sure she was the only one whose church paid her way...)

•    March: We offered free tae kwon do self-defense training for vulnerable LGBTQ+ people.

•    March: We showed up for local parade and booth activism in our suburban home base.

•    April: We hosted a big screen viewing of Gender Revolution, the National Geographic documentary on gender, in partnership with Transcendence Int’l.

•    April: We hosted an anti-racism / intersectionality workshop (and preaching!) by Sandhya Jha, co-sponsored with the Trinity-Brazos Area.

•    May: We sent three learners to the Contemporary Relationships Conference in Houston, a weekend with special emphasis on strengthening LGBTQ+ couples.

•    June: We hosted Trans Ally Training with Transcendence Int’l., and provided free dinner for all.

•    Spring & Summer: We paid for numerous trips – so many! – to Austin to lobby, protest, challenge, enlighten our Texas State legislators concerning discriminatory legislation, including several G-people who testified before the Senate and House Committees concerning the “bathroom bills” that threatened all summer long.

•    June: We delivered homemade cookies to our local legislators as they prepared to return to Austin for the special session, asking that our Christian witness to God’s inclusion of all people be allowed to “complicate your vote”.

•    September: We set up a booth presence at the UTA at Activities Fair and Rainbow Reception for LGBTQ+ students.

•    We supply monthly rental and refreshment costs for It Gets Better, a peer-to-peer conversation group for young adults around LGBTQ+ identity, going on three years now.

•    We incurred a few printing costs for the “justice table” in the Big Red Barn, helping people stay aware of current threats to civil liberties for LGBTQ+ persons, with ways to reach out to legislators at every level.

And there’s still more on our calendar for the remaining months of 2017. We’re christening a brand-new float for the Tarrant County Pride Parade in October, laying hands on it to bless its witness during worship the weekend before. (We’ll roll it right through the big garage door into the barn.)

Bottom line: our total spending for the year, against that budget of $1,800, is closer to $5,200 at this point, the treasurer tells me. Almost three times what we planned. 300%. With more to come.

So… don’t these things sound like the kinds of things a church should be overspending on? If we’re gonna blow the budget, isn’t this the way to do it – by announcing loudly, proudly, everywhere we can think of, that God’s love is the only law, the realest thing in the world, the beginning and ending of every conversation about what really matters?

And if you think that’s true, can you help replenish our coffers? We’re not broke, but it’s tight. And frankly, we think there are people out there who would love to fund this kind of ministry, specifically and strategically. We think it’s good work, and exactly the work God has called and equipped us to do. You could help with the “equipping” part by clicking the “donate” button right down there. Thanks for considering. Peace of Christ to you and yours.

David's Journey

David Grogan shows up with enthusiasm for most everything Galileo Church does -- and now he's reflective about what showing up signifies. The occasion? The 2017 Pickle Palooza Parade in Mansfield. We can't say for sure, but we think this may be one of the more serious reflections to come out of that event...

I am not ashamed to speak aloud about my faith or my church. I have moved decidedly left, after years of being pretty moderate, theologically speaking. The church we are attending makes justice for LGBTQ people a priority. I'm not, by nature, an activist, but I have been more challenged by this church, and more engaged in scripture in this church, than I have in decades. Today, as I walked in a parade with my church, I experienced some things for the first time.

First, let me say that I am the embodiment of privilege. I am a white, heterosexual, cisgender male (if you have to look up cisgender, you're probably privileged, too). So I have never really experienced people being "against" me just for being myself.

As we walked through the parade route, many people cheered. Some looked at us askance. But some were a little rude. We heard, "Sinner!" We heard, "I'll pray for you!" to which I replied, "Same." We had people throw back the really cute rainbow bracelets we were handing out. It was a little bit uncomfortable.

But that was it. Uncomfortable. No one attacked us. No one tried to stop us, or hurt us. We, in my counting, had so many more people cheering us on and thanking us than we had disparaging us.

This is progress. It's slow and painful. But it's moving forward. And sometimes that's the best you can do. I salute all the people who have fought for ungiven rights, and I join you, as best I can.

Melina's Testimony, SB6

Melina Madolora Wikoff

Melina Madolora Wikoff

March 2017: The Texas State Senate is considering Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender students in Texas schools to use the bathroom designated for their assigned gender at birth, rather than their gender identification. Galileo co-conspirator Melina Wikoff testified against the bill before the Senate State Affairs Committee at the capitol, March 6, 2017, with these words:

Good evening, Madam Chair and members of the committee. My name is Melina Wikoff and I am from Arlington. I am here to testify in opposition to SB6. As the mother of a transgender woman of color – whom you now know is among the most vulnerable in the transgender community – one of my most important jobs is to strengthen my daughter against and protect her from a world that has only in recent years begun to understand her reality but is still far from full acceptance. This is evidenced by the introduction of discriminatory bills such as SB6.

But even more important than my job as a mother is my role as a woman of faith, who is called to love God with all of my being and to love my neighbors. The Bible, from beginning to end, is the story of God at work in the world, teaching humanity God’s grace, mercy, and compassion, in a world that is bent toward self-glorification at the cost of injustice toward and the oppression of others.

History reveals that we fail to meet the mark over and over again. And so, as a woman of God who yearns to bring glory to the One who creates all life, I need only look at the example of Jesus Christ, who specifically reached out to those that the religious people of his time looked at as “other” – those that were kept from participating in the fullness of life by discriminatory, human-made rules. Jesus accepted them just as they were and loved them with a perfect love.

The history of God’s work in the world is one of progress that people of faith are called to continue. In Micah 6:8, God answers the question of what is required of us. And that is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. And so it is with great humility that I ask you to stop SB6 today. The neighbors that you and I are called to love include our transgender Texans. I ask that you would love them as you love yourselves and the God who loves us all.

We’re not sure that she dropped the mic after that, but that’s how we like to imagine it. 

A Giant Pool of Money

If I Had a Giant Pool of Money to Benefit Young Adults…

Katie Hays • November 2016

I don't have a giant pool of money to benefit young adults. But I can imagine one -- the liquidated assets, perhaps, of congregations that have faithfully served their purpose in their specific geographies and are ready to extend their legacy into the church's future. Please read these recommendations in the spirit in which they’re intended: as an imaginative exercise in how the wider church might help specific congregations that are ministering to and with young adults.

Imagine the giant pool of money -- a life-sustaining fund created by the established church for young congregations created by and for young adults. Here's how such a congregation could dip its foot in that pool. 


1.   Grants from this fund are for congregations that:

a.   are recognized as “congregations in formation” by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ);

b.   are at least three years old from their date of formation, and not more than ten years old;

c.   employ and pay at least one full-time staff member or two part-time staff members;

d.   meet weekly for worship;

e.   practice sustainable and scalable forms of ministry;

f.    consist mainly of young adults (under 30 years old) with a healthy generational mix, with young adults in significant positions of servant-leadership.

2.   Leadership from such a congregation may apply for grants to supplement their annual operating budget in the amount of $10,000, $20,000, or $30,000. Congregations may reapply every year, potentially receiving grants through their tenth year.

3.   Applications are collections of short essays demonstrating significant strength in the following areas:

A.   Missional Clarity (write <500 words each on two of the following)

(1) The congregation has specific missional priorities that most people in the church can articulate from memory.

(2) The congregation has a significant footprint in their community – i.e. people outside the church would miss them if they were gone.

(3) The majority of individuals in the congregation are called into consistent participation in the congregation’s ministry.

B.   Leadership Health (write <500 words each on two of the following)

(1) Congregational leaders practice transparency in open meetings, involving the congregation in decision-making.

(2) The congregation has processes in place for preserving the health (and preventing the burnout) of the pastor/s and servant-leaders.

(3) The congregation’s servant-leaders have proactively identified the next hurdle in the church’s journey – i.e. they are looking ahead to the next challenge and making plans accordingly.

C.   Buy-In (write <500 words each on all three of the following)

(1) The congregation has a strong core of congregants with longevity (participation of two+ years) and a healthy inflow of brand-new explorers; and has an idea of what makes a healthy ratio for their life together.

(2) The congregation has a successful record of fundraising from sources outside the congregation.

(3) The congregation is growing in stewardship – self-funding their operational costs at roughly 30% in their third year, 40% in their fourth year, 50% in their fifth year, and so on.

Thank you for thinking so hard about your good work, and for sharing what you've learned by doing it. We who are swimming in the pool will let you know as soon as we can. 


Take Action; Don't Wait

Micha with one of her favorite relatives.

Micha with one of her favorite relatives.

Guest writer Micha Sampson sojourned to Wild Goose 2016 with the Galileo group — most of whom she didn’t know well or at all. Nothing like tent-camping to get to know your church. Here’s her one big take-away from the festival.

I attended the Racial Justice Seminar on Thursday before the festival and spent most of my time at the festival attending various discussions on social justice issues (subjects ranging from feminist activism in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to queer inclusion and reconciliation in the church, to how to be a revolutionary ally in matters of racial justice, and many others in between). Intersectionality was emphasized over and over throughout.

Learning of the murders of Alton Sterling followed by Philando Castile in the wake of these experiences was deeply unsettling for me, particularly that of Philando Castile. I had a visceral response to this news and could hardly contain myself. Anger. Sadness. But mostly…fear.

My thoughts immediately went to my teenage cousin, B—, a wonderful young man who will soon be 16. He also happens to be bi-racial. He and his sister are being raised by my aunt and uncle, who love them very much but still maintain less than progressive ideas about why events like these occur over and over in society, which means they are never going to have “the talk” that parents of color typically have with their teen children.

My mom and I have spent a lot of time with B— and his sister over the years; and B— and I have developed a special bond. Because of that, I have been preparing to have that talk with him myself since the murder of Trayvon Martin nearly four years ago. I’ve wrestled with what to say, the delicacy of how to say it, and the appropriateness of me being the one to say it. Despite my many doubts and concerns, I always come back to this one thing…his safety overrides any discomfort on my part or resentment on his grandparents’ part. I’ve known this for a long time, but have been waiting for the “right time” (and the right words). Thankfully, I received some much needed guidance and affirmation from racial justice leader Micky ScottBey Jones, who agreed it’s definitely time.

My big take-away from Wild Goose? We must take action. I must take action. It is not enough to bemoan the system that allows people of color to be unfairly searched, imprisoned and killed without consequence. It is not enough to say we want change. We must actively work to dismantle the racist system that makes these injustices possible. It won’t be easy and it won’t be comfortable. If we truly want to change the system, then we must be willing to risk and deny our own comfort, privilege and power by speaking out against injustice and racism in all its forms and surrendering positions of power to people of color, women, etc. More than anything, I left Wild Goose knowing I can’t sit on the sidelines while injustice continues.

I Saw the Kin-Dom of God Last Night

I saw the kin-dom of God last night. I’ve been busy today, no time to write, but I thought you’d be mad if I saw it and didn’t tell you about it.

(Sometimes these days I experiment with saying “kin-dom” instead of “kingdom” because while I believe God’s sovereignty is a Big Deal, I’m almost sure God is always using God’s power to draw people together, like family, like love, like kin.)

Last night there was an “It Gets Better” meeting. You know, people a lot younger than I getting together to talk about their lives. Specifically, about their lives as LGBTQ+ people – the queer and beautiful people of God – though they are sometimes not so sure about the “beautiful” or the “of God” part of that. So they talk about it.

I guess they talk about it. I never actually go in there; that meeting isn’t for me. I have to be there because I’m the one with a Mansfield address so I can rent that room in that place. Galileo pays for the room. Galileo pays me to go sit in the lobby and work a little and pray a little for the group that is meeting behind a closed door a few yards away.

And somebody else from Galileo sent homemade cookies last night, cookies of a kind I cannot get out of my head. Yes, they shared one with me. Sweet baby Jesus, those cookies were good, and the milk that came with them. The cookies were not the point, but they could have been. They were that good.

But the people. The people were the point. They met for the 90 minutes that we were on the books for that room, and then they shambled into the public space where I was, only they weren’t ready to leave. By accident they formed themselves back into a circle, standing now, and talked some more. Laughing. Bending at the waist from laughing. Heads thrown back, laughing.

And oh, I wish you could have seen it. They were dark brown and light brown and peachy-pinky-yellow. They were all the colors, a rainbow of God’s beloveds. They were Christian, Muslim, decidedly non-religious. Students, workers, wishing for work. In relationships. Alone. Lonely. Content. Depressed and joyful, anxious and brave. Women and men, all along a spectrum, just themselves.

Laughing.

Their departure from the building and the parking lot took another 45 minutes, I’m guessing. 45 of those kin-dom of God minutes, precious minutes during which every single person knows for absolute certain that they are God’s children, beloved by God, with whom God is well pleased. Transfigured, bright shining as the sun.

I know, because I saw it. With that vision in my recent memory, I am the luckiest person on God’s green earth today. So I thought I would share it with you, so you could feel lucky, too.

How is this church different?

Spiritual refugees can’t always see why Galileo Church is any different than the boring, irrelevant, exclusive, and painful experiences of church they’ve come from. They’re right to insist that stylistic differences – a guitar instead of an organ, jeans instead of Sunday dress-up – are not sufficient to earn their trust. They challenge me to articulate something more than our snarky resistance to vocabulary like “committee” and “fellowship,” and our now passé commitment to the inclusion of beer for church events. Here’s what I say when they ask:

1. About God: we trust that the Deity is ahead of us, not behind us. God is the God of the future, not the past. God didn’t just used to do stuff, a long time ago in a Bibleland far, far away; God is still doing stuff, always a little further out from our comfort zone than we would like. And thus getting a handle on exactly Who God Is is not something we imagine we can do. We just try to keep up and stay amazed.

Someday, we trust, God will get everything God wants. (“The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward justice,” somebody said.) If we want that, too, God’s future will feel like heaven to us! If we don’t, if we’re invested in the status quo, well, God’s future will hurt like hell. We find images of that future in the Bible – mountains demolished, valleys raised up, the last made first, the first made last, the despised and forgotten sitting happily with Jesus. We want to want what God wants, because in the future of God’s imagining, it will all be true.

2. About Jesus: we trust that his life of ministry was as significant as his death, and that you can’t appreciate one without the other. His life was the fullest expression of God-Among-Us, God’s Logic, God’s Own Self ever. We are much more likely to share stories of his shocking, inclusive, earthly life spent among friends and enemies than we are to dwell on the bloody details of his atoning death.

We’re not even sure what “atonement” means, except that God routinely takes the crap we’ve got (crucifixion, anybody?) and makes beautiful stuff out of it. We insist: If Jesus had not lived the kind of life he did, they wouldn’t have killed him. Thus his resurrection becomes a vindication of his choice in life to love beyond the borders of religious propriety; and thus we are saved, because he loved us beyond the borders of religious propriety. Boom.

3. About the Holy Spirit: we trust that it’s the Spirit of Living Jesus inhabiting us, so that we are kinder, bolder, and more imaginative than we would be on our own because Jesus was the kindest, boldest, most imaginative person ever. And we’re pretty sure his Spirit is at work in people who don’t even know it’s happening, which is delicious. We feel strong and smart and gutsy with this Spirit weaving us together.

4. About people: we trust that people are beautiful and beloved. All people. Even us. So we try to act like beautiful and beloved people, even when we don’t feel like it, interacting with the beautiful and beloved people in our lives and in our world. This makes us happy, because people are fantastic. We are fantastic. You are fantastic.

This requires constant attention to the flattening of hierarchies, so that race and money and religion and gender and sexuality don’t prescribe how we relate to each other. This is the morality we lean into – the corporate morality of Christ’s (metaphorical) body (that’s us) living into the promise of the dissolution of human distinctions. Whew. That’s a mouthful.

So you can see that we’re aware that the beautiful and beloved people of God are also broken. We’re much more concerned about the deeply systemic brokenness in our world – the way power is used and abused, sometimes to our benefit without our even knowing it happened – than we are in each other’s individual little sins. Most of us are pretty good most of the time, and God is merciful; but all of us are caught in sticky webs of systemic sin from which the whole world, even the dirt we walk on, will one day be redeemed, because God is just. Thanks be to God. (Redeemed = set free. The churchy language sticks with us sometimes.)

5. About the Bible: we attend to the Bible as one, continuous story about God and how the beautiful, beloved, broken people of God relate to God. Sometimes they get it right. Lots of times they don’t. Everything in the Bible points to the God Who Is Ahead of us, calling us forward, never back. Nothing in the Bible is a stopping place. We take the Bible quite seriously, letting it show us how patiently God waits for us to figure stuff out and take the next step toward God.

Oh, and: the Bible is never boring. If it seems that way, you’re doing it wrong.

**************************************

So that’s how I explain it, for now. I’m aware that these things could change over time – I couldn’t have written this essay at 27, or 37, so what makes me think it’ll still be true at 57?

I don’t know if these words resonate with you, friend refugee. Do they feel true enough (and distinct enough) to make a difference in your experience of our church? Is there balm here to heal your wounds, nourishment here to strengthen your bones?

I guess the last difference in our church from your last one that you might be interested in is this: we believe that the church is for you. You, the skeptic; you, the cynic; you, the wounded; you, the strong one working to keep your head above water for another day. God is for you, so we are for you. You are why we exist. Come and see. 

Why I Church Where I Church

A guest post by co-conspirator and Mission Logistics team member Kyle Moeller, originally published at kylemoeller.wordpress.com.

For many years of my early adulthood I searched for a church home. I would scour the internet looking for a faith community I could call my own, but truthfully… none of them appealed to me. Dallas is home to Cathedral of Hope which is said to be the world’s largest gay congregation, but I just couldn’t get on board with that. I recognized the necessity of this community for a number of people, but it wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t feel different. I didn’t feel as if I needed a gay church. I wanted a community that reflected my actual life and though a number of them are, most of the people in my life don’t identify as LGBTQ. I wanted a place where these issues were important but not the main identity of the church. I would frequent gaychurch.org in hopes that I would find something that suited that need and finally in the summer of 2013 I saw a church on the list that had previously not been there. I found Galileo Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ community in Mansfield, TX. After months of liking facebook updates and a few messages to and from the pastor, I found myself in a dimly lit place in my life and worked up the courage to go to church. Quite literally as I was looking up directions, Katie (the pastor) sent me a message on facebook saying “Kyle, come to church, dude!” So I did. And nearly two and a half years later, I’m still there. So, here are just a few reasons why I church where I church.

  1. Galileo is non-traditionally… traditional. What I mean by that is that while you may not have ever experienced a worship service like ours, there’s still a strong emphasis on liturgy. We read the Bible. We say the Lord’s Prayer. We take communion and say words of institution. We just do things a little differently. We sing traditional hymns followed by some Johnny Cash. You’re likely to hear a “four letter word” in any given sermon. We don’t shy away from hard texts, in fact, we embrace them (we once had a series called “Monsters in the Dark: the Ugly Psalms”). Worship with Galileo is a truly unique and beautiful experience that provides a renewed idea of what worship looks like.
  2. When I’m not feeling worshipful, that’s fine. From the start of the worship service we encourage everyone to do what feels right for them. Whether that means participating fully in the service, walking around outside, holding a baby, or whatever else it may be that connects a person to God. There have been days when I’ve found myself in no mood to sit through song, scripture, and sermon. Days when I’ve had to walk out multiple times because my thoughts were too loud or my heart too heavy. But every time I’ve had one of those days where I show up knowing I can’t commit to being fully present in the service, God has sought me out and met me where I am (if you don’t already know the story, ask me about the time I planned on skipping communion).
  3. We take social justice seriously. I have personally had the amazing privilege of representing Galileo at a number of conferences pertaining to LGBTQ inclusion in the church. We march in pride parades. We show up for Black Lives Matter rallies and we truly believe that with all of our being. Our pastor has participated in an interfaith peace panel and we will soon host a discussion where two Muslim women will share with us what their faith means to them and how they experience life. We firmly believe in equality and justice for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, income level, education, etc.
  4. We know how to throw a party. I’ll just leave these two links here. The Theology of Parties and Why we Play Cards Against Humanity. But seriously… We like to party. We’ll find any excuse to do it. Dos de Mayo. We survived the holidays. After church surprise dance party. Those are literally just a few of the parties we’ve thrown.
  5. I’m not required to check my brain at the door. That’s one thing you hear a lot if you come to Galileo, but it’s the truth. I’m free to explore my relationship with God with the confidence that I’ll be supported in my faith journey, regardless of where I’m at. I’m not asked to sit quietly and go along with everything that’s said and done. We encourage exploring the hard parts of life, questioning God, and developing our own understanding of the world. Growth requires learning, but not much learning is done when you’re told what and how to believe, which is why Galileo Church does its best (we’re not perfect) to remain open in how we receive others.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have found a faith community that allows me to be who I am and whose priorities align with my own. I know Galileo isn’t for everyone but it’s my hope that those who are seeking will find a place where their needs are met and where they are loved unconditionally. If you’re searching for a church home or resources that align with a progressive nature (I hate that term. Why is it progressive to view all of God’s people as equal? I digress…) I recommend checking out gaychurch.orgthe Gay Christian Network, and the Convergence Network.

We're Not Okay Without You

March 2016

Dearly beloved human, who used to come around our church a lot but now doesn’t, mostly,

We are not okay without you.

I know it looks otherwise. If you’re following us on Facebook and Insta and reading our tweets, you probably believe we’re fine. God keeps us thinking great thoughts and doing amazing stuff and loving our life together. That’s all true. Galileo Church is still Galileo Church; the ethos and the people you fell in love with haven’t changed.

Except that we have, because you’re not here. And what I want to say, without pressing you to feel one iota of guilt, is that we really wish you were. Here are my three best reasons why:

1. Galileo Church is about helping people know for sure that God loves them, which some folks among us have a hard time believing. The only way we can prove it is by being here ourselves. Every single time we show up, just by putting our bodies in proximity to each other, we are communicating acceptance and community and love. It’s the easiest act of kindness we ever do: sharing love by simply being here. When you were here, you were helping us with that, and we appreciated it so much. I’m worried we never told you how important it was.

2. When you were here, you shared significant parts of your life with us, and we feel responsible in no small way for your health and wholeness. It’s not that we have a messiah complex – or maybe we do, because we are, after all, the body of Christ. We say we exist to “shelter spiritual refugees,” and insofar as you were (are?) one, we intended to be of actual help. And now you’re gone, and we don’t really know how you’re doing, and that worries us. We still pray for you. We still give thanks for your amazing and beautiful life, and we still worry about how easy it is for you to think otherwise if no one is around to tell you the truth about that. We wish you’d come back so we could tell you to your face.

3. Because the thing is, we love you. I know it’s weird; in some important ways we barely knew you. But nobody crosses the threshold of Galileo Church by accident; we have learned to respect the deeply felt reasons each person brings, and we have learned to love people for their vulnerabilities and brokenness. So when we don’t see you, it hurts – not because we need your ass in a chair, or because our numbers are falling (they’re actually not, there are always new people coming around), or because our ego is suffering (though we would confess that we’re not above that, just working to make it less true all the time). It hurts because losing a part of your body hurts. It hurts because letting go of someone you care about hurts. It hurts because we love you. You can stay away, but you can’t make us love you less.

This is a letter I want to print and put in the mailbox with your address and a stamp on it. But I won’t, because there’s just no way to unattach it from the potential for shame. That is the very last thing we want for you (see #3 above). So how do we convey that we’re not okay without you, and that we would love to see you and catch up on your life and welcome you the way God has welcomed all of us? How do we communicate how good that would feel to us, how grateful we would be, to you and to God?

Maybe we don’t. Maybe we just write it down to keep our hearts soft, so that if our People-Whisperer God whispers you back to us, in such a subtle way that you’ll think it was your idea, we’ll be ready to receive you with open arms. And then we’ll all be okay. 

Peace -- KH

It's Not Binary

February 2016

You already know that sexuality is on a spectrum, from super-gay to super-straight, with lots of people falling somewhere along the spectrum on one side or the other, and a couple of oddballs in the exact middle. (Just kidding, my bi friends. Chill.)

And you are learning that gender itself is on a spectrum, from all-the-way-male to all-the-way-female, with so many degrees of biological and emotional and social expression in between that it makes sense when some people identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

Now here’s a third spectrum that you probably want to know about: the range of responses to LGBTQ+ inclusion among people of faith. It turns out that there are not two kinds of people in the world, the homophobic, non-affirming nitwits and the purely good, #allmeansall advocates. Imagine that.

 

William Stacy Johnson points out in his book A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics (Eerdmans 2006) that individual Christians and churches locate themselves all along a spectrum of acceptance to which he assigns seven numbers and descriptions. Here they are.

1.   Prohibition does not approve of and seeks to ban same-gender relationships (and trans identity, etc.) in church and culture.

2.   Toleration does not approve of but would not prosecute or reject LGBTQ+ people. A “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude prevails here.

3.   Accommodation does not approve of LGBTQ+ identity generally, but allows for exceptions, especially if someone they love comes out. “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

4.   Legitimation wants to include LGBTQ+ persons in the community and church, and wants to protect individuals from being singled out or condemned. “They’re people, too.” “We’re all sinners, you know.”

5.   Celebration believes that same-gender relationships and marriages should not be scorned but affirmed as good for individuals and for society.

6.   Liberation views LGBTQ+ acceptance in the context of wider injustices in society, and seeks remedy for injustice generally.

7.   Consecration argues for the full religious blessing of LGBTQ+ identity, including the sacrament of marriage.

I identify as a 7 on this scale, but it was not always the case. I remember being a 1, and a 2; and I remember the person I met who converted me to a 3. The ascent through 4, 5, and 6 was rapid and smooth, thanks be to God and the brave LGBTQ+ people who helped me figure it out. 

So, when we’re thinking about people we love who have not figured out how to love all people exactly as they are, can we imagine them as something other than hopelessly homophobic and hate-filled? Of course we can. With practice, and patience, and prayer, we can.

And maybe you find yourself somewhere on this spectrum, somewhere short of #7. And you’re wondering whether <7 persons have a place at Galileo Church. Well, sure you do. Because you have a place in the heart of God. That’s always been true, and it always will be.

God, as it turns out, is pretty good at this spectrum thing. And we’re getting better at it all the time.

Ryan Felber, on Generosity

Ryan and Emma.

Ryan and Emma.

A guest post by Ryan D. Felber, a member of Galileo's leadership team who recently moved to California for an internship with XPLOR, the NBA's vocational discernment program for young adults.

Katie Hays once told me that I was one of the most relaxed and generous people she had met when it came to money. I'm not sure that's totally true, but I have learned something over the last year or so at Galileo Church: mainly, that no matter how little you have, you always have enough to give back. 

Basically I believe that we as Christians, or followers of Jesus as someone told me recently they like to say, are called to give without expectation of payback and without worry for tomorrow. We are called to give of ourselves because everything we have has been given to us. So while I don't make a lot of money (seriously, I'm an XPLOR intern!), I know that I am called to give to causes I feel passionately about, whether that's Galileo's crowdfunded worship album, my church, or the AIDS Walk Los Angeles.

Scripture actually tells us that we are not to worry because we are loved and cared for. Well, I'm not great at the "not worrying" yet, but I'm trying to hold loosely what I have and give graciously to those in need. For you see, I was once in need and someone gave to me; I was hungry and somebody fed me; I was homeless and I was sheltered; I was broken and I was taken in and healed.

So for everyone out there who has ever supported, given to, or loved me, I want you to know that I have learned from you. I'm doing my part as well, being as generous as I can every chance I get.

How to Invite a Friend to Church

It's not always easy. You don't want to seem pushy, or opportunistic, or (ugh!) too religious. But it's true: you have a church you love, a community of faith that is actually making your life better; and you want to share it with people you love.

Here's how Caroline A, whose friend posted on Facebook that she was looking for a church, did it. Rather than join in the FB comment stream that looked like a lot of recruiting for big-church programming (not that there's anything wrong with that!), she sent a private message to her friend. And this is what she said:

Hey A—! 

First off I just want to say what a beautiful family you have. I remember when you first started dating your hubby... 😊

Okay! About this church thing. Galileo has changed my life. Me and my wife are moving in the summer and one of the reasons we don't want to go is because we don't want to leave Galileo. 

My reasons for loving it may be different from yours. That's depending on what kind of church your looking for. We have 4 main priorities:

Caroline A with Jenn M, inviting thousands of UTA students to "test our welcome."

Caroline A with Jenn M, inviting thousands of UTA students to "test our welcome."

1. Justice for LGBTQ

2. Kindness for low wage workers

3. Beauty for our God who is beautiful. 

4. Real relationships no bullshit ever. 

We have an amazing children's ministry. We believe that they are the vessels for God's kindness to the world. 

Check out our website and really look at what we stand for and what you and your family want in a church. Galileochurch.org

If you have any questions let me know. Sorry about my rant. I just love Galileo.

See what she did there? She got really honest about how her church has changed her life for the better. She said what her church is about. She admitted that it's not for everyone. She remembered that her friend has kids. She provided a way for her friend to look deeper. She said again how much she loves her church and she can't help talking about it. 

That's brilliant, Caroline. I'm so frickin' lucky to be in ministry alongside you.

Church On the Move

Galileo Church creates a new, unique worship space in Kennedale

[This post is contributed by our friend Sarah Martinez, who intended to publish it in a local magazine. The magazine changed its mind -- more on that later -- so Sarah shared it with us. And we're glad she did!]

Galileo Church (galileochurch.org) seeks out “spiritual refugees,” so it’s fitting that the church itself tends to do some geographical wandering. For quite a while the church was housed in Mansfield’s Farr Best Theater until a dispute between the property’s management and owner necessitated an abrupt move.

“We got a call one day that we had a couple hours to get our stuff out of the Farr Best,” said Pastor Katie Hays. “With one quick post on Facebook, we had 30 people at the theater on a Thursday afternoon to move all our worship furniture, candles, dishes, etc. to my garage — including church people, but also local neighbors who wanted to help.”

Galileo Church was only momentarily homeless, thankfully. A Higher Power was at work behind the scenes.

“By the end of the day, the owners of Steven’s Garden and Grill [Mansfield] had offered us temporary space till we could find the next long-term space,” Hays recalled. “Thanks be to God!”

The sojourn at Steven’s gave Galileo time to regroup and arrange a long-term lease with Reds Roadhouse in Kennedale, where the church gathers for worship at 5 p.m. on Sundays.

“The new space at Reds is a large, flexible room,” said Hays. “The furniture can be reconfigured for different worship services so that we can highlight different things — a baptism, for example, or communion, or a music performance, or a shared meal. And when worship is over, we can walk right out the door into the restaurant and order an IPA [India pale ale] that is brewed on-site. How many churches can say that?”

Room for all God's children at Reds Roadhouse in Kennedale.

Room for all God's children at Reds Roadhouse in Kennedale.

The relocation drama Galileo Church experienced was a bit distressing, but it comes with the territory.

“We’re especially trying to break free of traditional church necessities like building ownership, because it seems like buildings and property take up a lot of the time and resources of traditional churches,” Hays said. “If we don’t own anything, we don’t have to spend a lot of time and money taking care of it.”

Not being tied to a space has other pluses.

The church works each week to turn Reds Roadhouse into sacred space.

The church works each week to turn Reds Roadhouse into sacred space.

“There’s also a theological advantage to being renters: we are dependent on the hospitality of others, which is a real subversion of the usual church paradigm,” Hays said. “We’re usually saying, ‘Y’all come on in here and let us welcome you to OUR space.’ Which gives us the power, see? But what if we flip it, and the church says to its neighbors, ‘Will anyone welcome us in? We could use a little hospitality.’ Now we are the guests, and the power is flipped, and we can take our place in humility.”

“Kids stay in worship with the grown-ups, and there’s a play area in the back of the room if they need to wiggle,” said Pastor Katie Hays. “Services are about 1-1/2 hours. And if we don’t invite you to share dinner and a beer after services, we’re off our game."

“Kids stay in worship with the grown-ups, and there’s a play area in the back of the room if they need to wiggle,” said Pastor Katie Hays. “Services are about 1-1/2 hours. And if we don’t invite you to share dinner and a beer after services, we’re off our game."

Another thing: being a “homeless” church eliminates many closed doors.

“We do most of our churchy things in public,” Hays said. “Bible study, worship planning, business meetings — you’ll find us doing all these things in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops around town. And that, I guarantee you, changes the conversation. When your neighbors can hear everything you say about what’s important, what’s true, what’s good, what’s needful, you get real focused on talking about things that actually matter.”

My Mother's Body, When I Was Young

August 2015

My mother has a beautiful body, and strong.

When I was a child she worked as a lifeguard in the summers. Her limbs were long and powerful and brown, and her curves made her buoyant, and she could swim like a fish. A confident, muscular fish.

Twice in my clear memory, I saw her pull drowning people from the water and bring them back to life. A tiny girl named Sherry got in too deep, lost her air, sank to the bottom of the swimming pool. Mom dove to the bottom, pulled her out, pushed the water from her lungs, held her while she coughed and sputtered. Sherry’s mother cried and cried; I thought she was weak. I thought how lucky I was that my mother was my mother. Nothing could happen to me; she would save me.

Mom with a couple of grandkids, 2011.

Mom with a couple of grandkids, 2011.

Another time a high school boy, a full-grown kid, horsed around on the diving board, jumping up high and banging the board with the back of his head. He was unconscious before he hit the water. Mom dove from the lifeguard stand and hauled that young man up from the deep end, pulled his dead weight out of the water, gave him mouth-to-mouth till he came back. His name was Ben. He looked so weak on the hot cement, panting and vomiting. My mother looked so strong, kneeling over him in her sensible bathing suit with the wide straps. I thought how stupid boys could be, and how smart my mother was. How tan, how competent, how beautiful.

But on Sundays. Oh, mercy, on Sundays my mother’s body was punished for its size and power and beauty.

On Sundays Mom got up earlier than anybody else and started Sunday lunch. Bread that would rise twice before church. A roast, seared and slow-cooking with root vegetables. Kids dressed and groomed. The table set for family and guests who would come for lunch. All of this, she did in her housecoat alone – a loose cotton garment that let her move and breathe with grace and efficiency in the kitchen, just as she did in the water.

In the last minutes before we had to leave for Sunday school, she would hustle to her room and squeeze into the elastic garments that held her flesh together: the girdle, the bra, the control-top pantyhose. These were barbaric raiments with hooks and snaps and straps. They squeezed and pulled and smoothed and constricted. The shoes were equally torturous; narrow pumps into which her toes were crammed and over which her ankles swelled. Even her earlobes suffered; the clip-on earrings pinched painfully and she didn’t put them on till very last. Her modesty required all of it; it would not do to let her body loose in church.

Thusly poured into her Sunday best, Mom sat erect in the passenger seat of the car and equally upright in the pew. I don’t think she could comfortably slouch if she wanted to. She poked at us kids to get us to sit up straight, too, but without all the elastic we didn’t stand a chance.

After church she served lunch, still cinched tight. Mom is a generous host who also very much enjoys the food she makes. When everyone else’s plates were filled on the Sundays of my childhood, I would look up from my peppery, gravy-covered plate to catch her spooning small portions on to her own dish. She would take a bite of ambrosia salad, her favorite, and she would smile a little smile of private satisfaction. And I thought how amazing it was that she had produced the wonder of that table, and about how soon I could ask for seconds.

After the guests had gone and the dishes were done, Mom would pick up her shoes and earrings (which had usually not lasted through the entire meal) and head for her bedroom. I accompanied her there to watch the getting-dressed procedure in reverse. The earrings would go back in the special box, and then the peeling of layers would begin. The dress, and then the various elastic modules until, at last, she was free. The housecoat would go back on.

And then, I swear to goodness, my mom would do something she hadn’t done since early that morning. She would close her eyes and take a deep, full breath. She would draw in air all the way to the bottom of her lungs, as if God’s own Self were giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As if she had been drowning, her breathing constricted as it was by all the wrapping. She would exhale just as fully, emptying herself of all the poisonous carbon dioxide she couldn’t quite get rid of while she was bound. On Sunday afternoons, when church was all the way done, my mom could finally breathe again. My mom came back to life.

Someone asked me today why I am a feminist. Because of my mother’s body, when I was young.

That Night re: Ferguson

August 7, 2015

I told this story a few times when it happened, and then I sat with it for eight months. Some stories are like that.

On August 9 one year ago, I was preparing for a family vacation. I packed a book to read: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. And then we heard that things were indeed falling apart: Michael Brown had been shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

On December 3, a grand jury in New York failed to indict the police officer who presided over the arrest of Eric Garner. Garner suffocated to death during his arrest and did not receive CPR or other emergency treatment.

There were other stories, other names, in between Michael and Eric.

I was beginning to understand that we were not talking about isolated incidents or rare accidents. We were opening our eyes (having our eyes opened) to recognize a pattern in a system that perpetuates the pattern. Disbelief had been my first response but repentance was mine to eat now. I felt like I was slowly waking up to a reality that was new to me, but had been true all along. Like waking up groggily from a dream into a nightmare. Before, it was somebody else’s nightmare, not really mine. But more and more, it felt like a truth I should know better.

On December 4, I went to my first #blacklivesmatter protest. I carpooled with my friend Wil; we met another couple of friends there. We ate an awkward dinner before the protest began. We listened to some short speeches yelled through a bullhorn, and then we began to walk. March? Maybe. We were walking with purpose, I suppose. But I did not yet understand what the purpose was.

There were police officers nearby. They rode bicycles on the edges of our group, returning our (my?) friendly smiles. They had set out cones to reroute traffic for our walk. They were helping us. I thought, This is going just fine. This will all feel better soon.

After we had walked for about an hour through the streets of downtown Dallas; after we had lain on the ground in a peaceful, four-minute “die-in”; after I had marveled at the city lights and the beauty of the night and the camaraderie of the crowd; this is what happened.

Somehow I got the sense, along with everyone around me, that something was suddenly and definitely wrong. There was a rustling in the herd of walking people, consternation on furrowed brows ahead of us. We felt nervous, all together. The police officers on bicycles had disappeared — when did they go? Now there were police cars beside us, and look! behind us, too! The cars had their red, spinning, rooftop lights on. The officer-drivers were not outside with us now; they were behind glass. They were not returning our (my?) hopeful smiles.

My friends and I realized together that we were no longer being protected by the police; we were being herded. The loose crowd of protesters was squeezed into a narrower and narrower space. The police cars with their dizzying lights multiplied, came closer, nudging us with bumper and horn into a kind of roadway chute. There were no more city lights; we were in near-darkness except for the nauseating spinning reds on the cars. We realized slowly that we had been corralled under an overpass, with concrete pylons towering over us, no way out on the other side, no streetlights to see by. That’s when the sirens came on.

The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D., Assoc. Prof. of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School

The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D., Assoc. Prof. of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School

Now there were 30 police cars behind and beside us, sirens blaring. The noise bouncing off the concrete was deafening. The cars edged close enough to touch our bodies; I hopped out of the path of one that was nipping at my right hip. My diminutive friend (a comment on her physical stature, not her character) was braver than I; she hopped in front of a blaring, glaring car, wearing no more armor than her Episcopal collar. And I thought in panicked fragments, “Don’t. Your skin. Not safe here.”

When she hollered at me to take a picture, so it would be documented if they hurt her, I did the best I could. I could barely hear her voice over the sirens and the sound of my own pounding heart.

We were barricaded under the overpass for some of the longest minutes I have known. (As long as the four-minute die-in? I don’t know. But I could breathe.) The leadership of our purposeful walk was lost to us; the bullhorn couldn’t be heard over the sirens in the echo chamber of cement and asphalt. We dithered. We were like sheep without a Good Shepherd; only the menacing police-car-sheepdogs barking and biting and bullying.

Eventually the word came to the back of the crowd that we would have to turn around and walk out of our situation. Our safety in numbers would be diminished, even destroyed, as we separated from each other to thread through the narrow channels formed by the officers’ cars. One by one we would make our way through, turning our bodies sideways to fit, taking tiny steps on tiptoe to get out. No more marching. Very little purpose to our walking now, except to escape.

The rest of the night was uneventful. There were no arrests. Certainly nobody was hurt, or killed. There were no media witnesses to the part of the protest I’m describing here. No explanation offered by the police department. I have theories. No proof.

But here is what I came away with that night: for the first time in my life, I was afraid of the police. It came to me like an electric shock: This is what my African-American neighbors feel all the time. Like the people who are meant to protect me could arbitrarily turn and use serious force against me for no reason that I could discern. Even if I followed the path they had marked with the cones. Even if I was peaceful, lawful, my hands in the air, my heart exposed.

That’s all I can say about that night eight months ago. It’s one person’s experience on one night in one city. There’s no prescription here for fixing it; only my recollection of how I came to believe that it’s broken. Some stories are like that.

Read Prof. Gafney’s “Protest Prayer” here.

© 2013 Galileo Church