Dreams That Cannot Be

"After I had given up to go, the thoughts of the journey were often attended with unusual sadness, at which times my heart was frequently turned to the Lord with inward breathings for his heavenly support, that I might not fail to follow him wheresoever he might lead me."-John Woolman

Last Friday began with an uneventful morning, and I spent the morning tidying up my room and unpacking the bag that I had brought with me to the annual sessions of Northwest Yearly Meeting in Newberg Oregon.  I usually take a solid day to rest when I return from annual sessions, because I'm usually pretty exhausted after basically a week of non-stop interactions, many life-giving and many emotionally exhausting...I think that kinda comes with the territory of LGBTQ people being a topic of conversation.



That afternoon I was listening to some of my favorite music and reflecting on the causes for hope that I witnessed this year.  The Young Adult Friends house held a conversation where we invited the NWYM Elders to talk about our hopes and dreams for the future.  That conversation sparked some new dreams in me, and I imagined what it would be like to grow together with these creative and beautiful souls spread out all across the NWYM in the decades to come.  I daydreamed what it would be like for my future children and the future children of my peers to get to know each other at camps, and what new ministries and challenges we would all be called to respond to in the future.

I was reading over a brochure to the NWYM pastor's conference, and the clock showed about a quarter to three when my phone rang. The name of one of my Elders from West Hills Friends flashed across the screen.  This is an Elder who has been by my side through a lot of hard times, who I've looked to for guidance and support, who I've cried with, and who was with me during my membership process.  Hmm...I wasn't expecting a call, I wonder whats up?

We greet each other, but she is calling to deliver news.  I bet I know what it is! I bet the WHF Elders had an impromptu meeting with the NWYM Elders and talked about what some next steps would be like.  Her voice was calm when she said that the NWYM Elders had reached unity in their decision.  My mind was racing but excitedly! Wow that is so early that it must be good news! They are going to tell us that we can stay and that it is over!

The part of my mind that feels strongly clicked off after I heard her end her sentence, "they have decided to release West Hills from the yearly meeting."

Did I mishear something?  No...no I did not.  So thats it. We are out...thats the end?

The part of my mind that can operate in emergencies and stay calm kicks on.  Deal with reality, deal with it fast.

Who knows what has happened? What where the NWYM Elders reasons in their letter? Who can I help? How can I help?  My Elder answered all the questions I had in the moment, and I said I needed a little time to think.  I ended the call and just looked at the phone in my hands.  I need to stay together. I need to keep thinking. I need to keep calm.

I thought about so many people who I'd just seen a day prior....they couldn't hear this news from a screen. I could make some calls and deliver the news delicately, from a person with an ear who could listen.  Better yet, tonight might be a good time to gather together, rather than all be apart as the news breaks across NWYM.  I paced and thought through what I needed to say, and felt clear to start making some of the hardest phone calls of my life.

I made as many as I could, and staid as calm as I could.  We would gather that night in Newberg...to grieve...to begin a new process.  The consequences of the reality of the situation started to surface, and all my hopes and daydreams from mere hours ago were dashed against the rocks. I was hit by waves of incredible pain, and waves of intense anger...this was a feeling I had felt many years ago.  I've had to leave a denomination before.

I was 18 years old, it was early on Sunday morning, and I was standing in front of my mirrored closet doors tying my tie.  The tie felt more uncomfortable than it ever had that day, and sitting in the passengers seat with my mom driving to church,  I wished more than anything that I could have been walking into a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting instead.  I was beginning to ask more questions to my friends in the church, and to my Sunday School class, and many people were unhappy about it.

"Why can't the earth be older than 6,000 years old?"

"Why are wedding rings sinful?"

I was told that my questions were petty, that I needed to spend more time reading the Bible, and that I was exposing myself to too much of the wrong kind of media.  I was just beginning to really explore my interest in history in high school, and my Sunday School teacher told me point blank that the History channel and Discovery channel were of the devil...I kept watching them.  I kept asking questions.

I walk into my Sunday School class not knowing that this would be the last time I would ever set foot in one again.  I take my seat and learn what our task that day is, my teacher has a big sticky note pad on a stand, and he says that we are going to make a list of enemies of the Church.  My heart skips a beat.

My peers start responding and the teacher writes up a list of usual suspects.  Atheists go up quick....evolutionists.  My teacher puts down his marker and takes a seat, his facial expression and tone turn very serious.  

"Now this is a good list so far, but you have forgotten about the single most important enemy of the Church today.  The homosexuals." 

Something within me breaks.  Something within me dies.

My peers remark on how wrong homosexuality is, and after a group laugh my teacher leans back in his chair and says with a chuckle "I mean, is there anyone in the room who doesn't think homosexuality is a sin?" 

One hand in the room snaps up in the air at full extension...my hand.

I imagine all of my friends's faces in GSA.

My teacher sits up and stiffens in his chair, his face becoming hard.  Every eye in the room turned towards me.  "Do you have something to say?"

Breathe. "I think that the Bible has been misused to justify great evils, like slavery and the oppression of women.  I think that we are doing the same thing today to people who we just don't understand."

My peers are agitated, and every single one of the clobber verses is thrown at me like a knife.  I do my best to counter, but it is 1 vs 25, and I'm getting overwhelmed.  "Well maybe that was taken out of context..." "Look at these other things that the Bible was once 'clear' on.." My peers and my teacher were having none of this, and I was told that I was just. plain. wrong.




I said nothing. And for the first time in 18 years of my life, I walked out of a Sunday School class, and no one in that room had a question about why.  

I waited in the narthex of the church building, sitting near the bottom of a great staircase, my heart pounding in my ears.  What have I just done?  I hear the Sunday School class get released, and chatter moving down the halls.  Suddenly friends I have known for literally my entire life, grown up in camps with, surround me at the bottom of the staircase.  Their eyes are cruel.  

"Hey A.J." one glared, "you acted pretty gay in there."

Turns were taken on me, with all manner of unkind words,  they had connected the dots and knew I was gay.  I took it.  I rose slowly to my feet, started walking forward, glared back in defiance, turned, and walked towards the door.

Breathe. They would not....breathe....they would not. see. me. cry.  

I remember pushing open the door for the last time, walking out of the building, and cursing the day I had ever been brought to it.  I cursed the lies that I had been indoctrinated with, and swore to never be associated with the monsters called Christians ever again.  I looked back at the building with white hot hatred...your most important enemy?  Ok then...I'll become your worst nightmare.  I'll become more cunning than you, smarter than you, build up the power in my community while I watch your sickness shrink, wither, and die in the dustbin of history.  I will have my revenge. 

I pushed the flaming sword of my furry into my wounds to stop the bleeding, and used what was left to double my motivation to work on behalf of the LGBTQ community.

A wise Friend told me once that anger...can be a weapon that will eventually damage its user as well as its target.

A series of unlikely events in the years to come would lead me to start a club that would be a safe haven for LGBTQ students at George Fox University, and through that club I would meet young Quakers.  Through them I found my way to West Hills Friends Church, and I feel like my soul has come home again.  I feel free to ask questions, to listen to the nudges in my heart, and to grow as a Christian from a place of authenticity and integrity.

My heart softens along the way as well, and I find that I can no longer carry the sword of my anger.  I find grace offered freely to me, and come to understand something new about Jesus.

Jesus was with me in that Sunday school room so long ago.  His heart broke with mine, and he walked with me when I walked out.  I decide to invite the incredible love of this Light into my life, and trust to be guided and taught by it, and to make it the source of my actions and my words.  I am feeling led to become a Friends pastor...and my ministry is affirmed by my monthly meeting and from weighty Friends in my life.

I am 24 years old, in my room after the 2015 annual sessions of the yearly meeting that I have become a part of and loved, and read the letter from the Elders of that yearly meeting.

"...we recognize that the NWYM as a whole is not in any position to recognize same-sex marriages or record as pastors people who are living in committed same-sex relationships."

Something within me breaks.  Something within me dies.

That last part feels directed at me.  All I wanted to do was to pastor a church where all people, even those on the margins, could feel like they could connect to God.  A church where people could grow as Friends of Jesus together, and support each other's ministries...that dream crumbles before me, and leaves a great echo in the emptiness of its absence.

People who I was supposed to be able to trust as elders to support me and all of the NWYM spiritually, feel that my presence and ministry is such a danger....such a legitimate threat to the Kingdom of God...that they must take action.

I'm bewildered.  I remember what it was like running away from a tradition and wanting to never return, and now I am finding myself being pushed out of the building when all I want to do is stay inside.  My heart is breaking, and I feel so small...so foolish for having ever dreamed of becoming a pastor.  I see the opinions start appearing online, and am disturbed to find out very openly now how many people would like it better if I was not around...was I really that bad? I never asked for anyone I didn't agree with to be kicked out...I feel like unwanted trash in a yearly meeting dumpster, or like a tumor that was removed.



I've felt incapacitated by sickening depression since learning the news a week ago.  I've been trying to stay active in supporting my f/Friends who are still a part of NWYM as they raise their voices in concern to appeal this decision.  I've also been trying to stay available as a resource to LGBTQ people in NWYM who are in similarly dark places.  I have no interest whatsoever in picking up that old sword again, but I have enough in me to still walk around with bandages.

Dear readers my emotions come in overwhelming waves, and I'm at a loss to articulate what it is that I even need most of the time.  It has been hard for me to pray and hear God's voice this week.  I am discerning a lot about what to do for next steps, but at this point I am clear to help the hurting, and support those who will be appealing.

For those dear readers across NWYM who are in the closet.  I want you to listen very carefully to these next few words.  Ok? Read them slowly.

God loves you.  God loves you exactly as you are. Your feelings, your sexual orientation, your gender identity....are all parts of all the wonderful things that make you uniquely you.  I am convinced that nothing, no decision made by any group of Quakers for now and for all time, can separate you from the love of God.  There are Friends all across NWYM who desperately desire to support and love you exactly as you are, and it would be my delight to connect you with them.  If you contact me through seeing this blog, please know that I will never break your confidence, and that I don't want you to feel alone.  You deserve community and acceptance amongst Friends of Jesus, and that good day is coming. Please listen to me, God loves you.

For those dear readers in NWYM who are speaking out for the first time, or in new ways, and are standing in the gap, do not be afraid.  Trust in the Spirit to direct your words.  Fill your heart with love and grace, and speak on behalf of those who cannot yet.  Take courage from the examples of your ancestors, and know that I'll be beside your every step of the way as your faithful servant.  Whatever happens next will be recorded as the biggest event in the history of NWYM thus far, and your appeals will be appeals to the better angels of our nature.  Who knows, it could be the case that by this time next year, I'll be rejoining you again as a part of NWYM.

For all of my other dear readers, spread across the globe and across branches of the Friends tradition, please hold the people I addressed previously in your prayers, and the entire NWYM, even the Friends who don't want me there.  Truly, pray for them all, or send good thoughts their way if you're not the praying type.  I appreciate the all the messages and support that has come my way, and while I might not be able to respond to them all....I do read them all, and they are a breath of fresh air in the midst of depression.  I'll be writing more after I have time to discern more, but until next time, go in the Light and in peace.


28 comments:

  1. Sending much love. Holding you -- all -- in the Light, and in the comforting, healing, Darkness.

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    1. Thanks for reading and for the kind message!

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  2. Sending prayers for healing and open space for God to work, to demonstrate continuing revelation, to remind us that love is the first motion.

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    1. I know I need constant reminders of that myself! Thanks for reading and commenting : )

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  3. Holding you and NWYM in the Light and praying for your faithful service, wherever God leads.

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    1. I really appreciate it Robin! Thanks so much for reading!

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  4. Sending loving thoughts, from a Quaker dyke from Canadian Yearly Meeting. Holding you and all of NWYM in the Light that all remember that love is the first motion.

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    1. Would love to visit Canadian Yearly Meeting sometime, and thanks so much for reading and for the kind words!

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  5. Thank you for being such a strong voice and support for others these past several years. Let us know how we can also support you. Much love, dear Friend.

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    1. Thanks so much for your affirmation and support Sarai, I'll try to be mindful to let people know if I can think of other supportive things!

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  6. Amen. We are praying the same prayers.

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    1. I'm really glad my words resonated with you Jim : )

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  8. it pains me so much that we have quaker meetings excluding people like this. this should not be happening. I feel like if I hadn't been in an area with a liberal unprogrammed meeting that welcomes everyone, I wouldn't have become a quaker. holding you and everyone in this situation in the light.

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    1. There are so many good Friends in the programmed branches too....its just unfortunately there also some who like to be gatekeepers. I appreciate your prayers!

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  9. Thank you for your eloquent, heart-felt and - above all - graceful response to your painful news.

    As part of Britain Yearly Meeting, I have a difficult time reconciling such exclusionary behaviour with my experience of Friends. I hope that you will find the courage, strength and support that will be needed over the coming months. I shall be holding you in the light.

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    1. Thanks so much James, I hope to find those things. I would love to visit Britain Yearly Meeting sometime : )

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  10. I don't know you, but I love you.

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    1. I appreciate that John, and am sending my love in return.

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  11. They can't stop a movement of the Spirit.

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  12. You have an important and powerful ministry to share with the world AJ, and speak from the place of deep love and care for others. You will find the strength to do this work. Keep speaking your truth and sharing your light, and you shall be given more. Blessings on your journey and light on your path. It is not an easy road.

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    1. Thank you so much for the support and for reading!

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  13. My eyes are welling up with tears as I read this, AJ. I will be holding you and all folks in NWYM fiercely in the light and sending you as much love as I can.

    I remember the wounded places I experienced just 15-16 years ago as "take back Vermont" signs popped up at the homes of neighbors during my state's movement towards civil unions. And I look at where we've come since. I remember sitting in a workshop with other LGBTQ folk as we tried to clean and bandage our wounds.

    We have come a long way in our state, and in our country, and I want to send you a giant package of HOPE and FAITH that way will open in the hearts of those that are currently closed. Let the Love Train roll on!

    PS My partner and I met you at MidWinter gathering when it was outside Portland in 2013, it was our first time ever in The Pacific Northwest and we fell in love with the place and people and loved experiencing the programmed worship that was shared that weekend. XXOO

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    1. I'm so glad we got to meet back in 2013 : ) thank you for reading and commenting! I also really appreciate the prayers.

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  14. I am holding you and the people of NWYM in the Light, AJ. And am so sorry for the pain these people are causing. Please take care of yourself and seek out the ways in which others might be of help to you in these challenging times.

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    1. I will do my best to seek those ways out : ) thanks for the support Shelley!

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