A Theology of Relationship

Rev. Kim’s reflections come in two parts. The first was the intended CrossCurrents article to be published here and was written days before the shootings in Orlando, FL. The second piece was posted on Rev. Kim’s personal FaceBook page in response to the tragedy.

The First Reflection

The Second Reflection

This is the first of Rev. Kim’s reflections this month on two items that have been in the news – the Stanford University rape case and Hilary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president. It was written days before the shootings in Orlando.

Trigger warning: this article contains language that relates to sexual abuse. Links included come from Rev. Kim’s ELCA colleague the Rev. Andrea Roske-Metcalfe and includes some challenging language. The second link is written by UU activist and writer Kenny Wiley.

Years ago a colleague wrote a report outlining and identifying the number of times a minister who is of any minority identity (gay, black, female, etc) can speak about being of such group from the pulpit without congregational backlash. Two. Two times a year a gay clergy person can name being gay or speak about their partner; two times a year a black clergy person can “remind” folks that she is a person of color; two times a year a woman can risk the obvious by suggesting that under the robe is the physical representation of a history of heresy in the church (any church).

These data were shared with me once as an explanation and what felt like a sort of you should have known addition when I was told in another congregation not to mention Tara’s name so often, that speaking about being gay is distracting, assaulting, and pulls them out of the purpose of our time on Sundays. It was a quick trip back in the closet for my family and me after that and a long time wondering if I could in fact serve a congregation as my authentic and entire self.

You’ve heard the product of that discernment: a ministry that is as honest as I can muster and a refusal to keep an excel spreadsheet of how often my wife, my identity, my full personhood gets offered up from the pulpit.

Lately though, I’ve begun dressing the closets of my heart. Yes, beautiful tapestries and a whole host of books that could keep me company. I could hang a few pictures and maybe cut a small window inside my closet that I’ve been getting more and more cozy in. It’s such a lovely place of protection and without confrontation, my closet.

But I am poking my head out today – in ways that will feel harsh to some, and like I only dared name the safest and my obvious truths to others.

The recent convergence of Hilary Clinton’s win as the Democratic Party’s Nominee and the publicity around the Stanford University rape case, the joke of a six month sentence that followed, the rapist’s father coming to his son’s defense so that 20 minutes of his son’s life would not ruin the rest, and the she should have known they were both drinking responses have left me feeling sick these last few weeks.

Now, if it is hard for you to understand what these two situations have to do with one another – the election of the first woman to a major party and the grotesque failure following this woman’s rape, I encourage you to read this and this. Really, please please read these.

In my own words: I have watched family, friends, members of our congregation, not to mention the media or the other party’s alternative, speak about Hilary Clinton and other women in powerful public roles in ways that dehumanize and use their being female as the basis of their disgust – calling Clinton a bitch, a cow, giving commentary on her attire, blaming her for her husband’s transgressions.

The sentiments are so familiar and expected it would be boring if it wasn’t appalling. And why is it familiar and expected? Because we have a very specific language for how we speak about women or how we speak about men who we want to insult to the demotion of being or acting like a woman.

At its most obvious, this language creates makeup companies and shoes that ruin our feet; it creates eating disorders and a competition among our own sex that feels puppeteered at times. But this language also makes the image of a woman who has come into power, who reaches her hands outstretched from one side to the other – taking up space she is so rarely afforded – a shock to the system and a confrontation of discomfort.

This language allows for the victim of rape to be “the reason” an elite young man’s titles and awards are taken from him. It allows his loss of social status to take precedence over the erasure of her physical and emotional safety.

This language is one of dominion.

I want to be very clear: this is not an endorsement, a bumper sticker of support for any candidate, or a call to vote. This is a reminder that no version of the above is acceptable and that as your minister (yes, who is also a woman, put a tally on the excel sheet) part of my charge to us all will be in demanding a far better version of ourselves than I’ve seen.

When we speak abusively about some women this directly affects how we as a society can treat all women. And if you disagree with that broad blunt statement, I challenge you to take seriously the possibility of this claim, the risk of this potential truth, and to know who you are in this conversation. Is this a place or time for you to disagree or to listen? A time for you to put on your armor or turn to wonder? An opportunity to list all the reasons this is an exaggeration of circumstances, or an invitation to listen to your daughter’s, your sister’s, your mother’s, your minister’s heartbreak? And just to note: Not one of those women are yours.

We have a responsibility as Unitarian Universalists – who are so often discredited as a religion for only having a set of morals that any good person would agree to – to show the world what faithful living and a theology of relationship looks and sounds like. I for one am coming out of the closet – I am a woman, with worth and dignity, with power and capability. And when I hear an attack on any woman, I will carry that on my heart with her.

May it be so.

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This is Rev. Kim’s second reflection for this month. Rev. Kim posted this message on her personal FaceBook account on the evening of June 12th, shortly after the shootings at the Pulse in Orlando, FL.

Two my best friends just called to check in. Check in on Tara and me, on our beautiful baby who knows nothing of the world’s pains today – on the day of his 9th month, when we woke to hear that multiple, then twenty, then fifty or more of our family were killed in Orlando at a club. That’s the word we LGBTQ people use to speak of other non-straight folk: family. How ironic, I’m thinking for the first time, that we use that word when for so long we fought to have any sort of heteronormative family legitimized under law or by convention. When for so long we’ve been kicked out of our given families, our congregational families, our ethnic families, I suppose we’ve stretched that word to include such a wide umbrella that we could never be alone again.

I’ve tried to say a few things a few times today about the shooting – now known as the most numerous mass shooting in America. But what can I say? What can I say other than that my well was dry yesterday?

Yesterday I was still angry – livid actually – heartbroken and afraid to say just how much so – by the reminders of how often I am aware of my body in public places; of what I may be blamed for, accused of, told to take responsibility for as a woman. I was already exhausted by the countless (hundreds and hundreds and hundreds) of stories being told and retold by friends and strangers who know Brock Turner – not him specifically but the good guys who still take up too much space, the good guys who tell the jokes but mean nothing by them, and also those other guys who we’ve been told to think about constantly in the back of our minds no matter how lit the street, no matter how trusted of a friend – the bus drivers or teachers, the uncles or neighbors, the strangers or friend who will walk you home.

Yesterday I was already depleted. Because of course, it’s not just Stanford that has made me preach or brought me to my knees – rarely in prayer, mostly with the spirit knocked out of me like a basketball to the stomach – because we (read “white”) don’t all agree that racism is real or if it’s real not “our” work, not “our” cause, not “ours.” Talking about the raw ugliness of racial injustice while having to defend the anger that brings fire and destruction to the streets all while engaging in the politics of respectability has worn me down. Worn me down.

So this morning, when I woke with my wife and we cared for our baby, a baby whose birth certificate has the names of two women in the mother and father lines, I wasn’t ready – I’m never ready – to hear that in the few truly safe spaces in which we can gather, terror and blood and death had taken all of it away. Taken away life, taken away closets of those men and women who hadn’t yet told their families and whose secrets will now be put together alongside death certificates; taken away my want to have Tara’s hand on my back in the grocery store; taken away the last bit of water in the well.

This is what I said when my friends called to check in. And I realized I did have something to say, it just didn’t fit in the form of May we’s. May we find strength today. May we have hope today. May we remember today. No. Today, for me, I just need to find some water. I am parched and afraid and the journey is long to the spring. It will take all of us. All of us angry and heartbroken. It’s not just about guns. It’s also about language (hate the sin not the sinner; just thugs with their pants hanging down and hoodies up; a ban on Muslims; Mexicans are rapists; she shouldn’t have been drinking). It’s also about language and what we deem has worth.

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