We Work it Out in Community
I spent the last two weeks road-tripping around Morocco: 6 cities in 14 days with over 40 hours of driving. I spent time in two coastal cities, two cultural hubs, one night in the desert, and one where the whole city was painted blue. It’s been a while since I’ve traveled in a predominantly Muslim country, which had me reflecting on questions about what it means to be a respectful guest in someone else’s homeland.
Some of those questions feel simple: I’m obviously going to cover up when I visit a mosque. But I found myself feeling extra self-conscious about how visibly gay I am, wondering whether that was offensive and what I needed to do about it. I don’t mean big displays of gay affection that are easily reigned in. I’m talking about just being in my queer body in the presence of people—not unlike the religious conservatives who raised me—who might think I’m wrong and feel offended by my presence. But with the added layer of being an American, a member of a society that’s historically waltzed into other countries and imposed our views with little concern for the people who live there.
There was a time when I would’ve believed that, given the history of violence from white westerners (particularly American Christians), I should be deferential at almost any cost. This time I found myself asking deeper questions about what that means as a queer person who’s fought so hard to be myself and to feel good in my body. I wondered if there are more layers to the questions about respecting one another amidst cultural differences. Maybe respect doesn’t look like reflexively deferring, but instead trusting others enough to show up as my full self (with kindness), and not feeling bad about being me. For the most part, even when people asked about my gender, they exuded warmth and hospitality.
These kinds of questions touch on issues of race, religion, imperialism, gender, and sexuality. They get to questions about power and which direction it’s moving, of genuine respect amidst religious and cultural differences. They’re complicated and there are no easy answers—only guiding principles that we can hold with humility. Ideally, we’ll work them out in close community among people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and sensitivities to illuminate aspects we wouldn’t have thought about on our own, among like-minded people.
That’s the kind of community I’ve had at the Faith and Justice Network for the last seven years. My time as a student and then Teaching Fellow has been formative in my thinking personally, politically, and spiritually. And the work is feeling even more urgent as white Christian nationalism becomes a greater force here in the U.S.
The Faith and Justice Fellowship is a nine-month program with a tremendous reading list, frequent lectures, online discussions, and three in-person gatherings. In addition to that, I’ll be leading a cohort! We’ll meet twice a month on Tuesdays at 8pm ET, with a focus on questions more related to queerness and community. Here’s the description for my cohort:
The queer community has expanded our imagination for what’s possible in every sphere of society: in our politics, friendships, romantic relationships, and faith communities. By nature of existing outside of the mainstream narratives, our elders have dreamed up alternative ways of belonging to one another—relationships rooted in mutuality, equity, and generosity. In this cohort, we’ll explore questions of love and belonging through the expansive lenses offered to us by the queer community.
I would love for some of you to join me. The cap for my cohort will be 18 people, but I imagine it will be something like 10 of us on a regular basis. There are also some other fantastic cohorts if you’d like to join a community asking big questions through a different lens. Here’s a list of the other cohorts:
The Enneagram + Justice, led by Adam Bailon
Faith, Justice, and Asian American Identities, led by Angie Hong and Peter Choi
Education and Belonging, led by Brian Cropper Heredia
Long History of Christianity and Race, led by Daniel José Camacho
Deconstructing White Evangelicalism, led by D.L. Mayfield and Krispin Mayfield
A Pastoral Theology and Ministry of Inclusion, led by Fred Harrell
Reimagining Belonging, led by Julie Rodgers
Trauma-Informed Faith and Justice, led by Mira Sawlani-Joyner
Open Cohort, led by Peter Choi
Flourishing as Women of Color, led by Riana Shaw Robinson and V Kehoe
The deadline to apply is August 15, and the Fellowship begins in September. There are scholarships available—just reach out to them through the website to learn more.
It’s really hard being human. Even if we set aside the horrors of the headlines, each of us navigates loss and loneliness, physical and mental health challenges, fears of the future, and questions of meaning and purpose. We need people to support us as we move through the seasons, and hopefully we find communities that will help us grow into people who make the world a little gentler for others who are suffering. I’ve found that kind of community in the Faith and Justice Network. If you’re looking for something like that in your life, then I hope you’ll join me in September.