Take Me to Church: Finding Space in Grief for the Life I Have Been Given [QCT 23]

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to the music video to the Hozier song, “Take Me to Church.” I still haven’t forgiven her.

Artistically, it’s delicious. Anyone haunted by anthemic spiritual music should get chills the first time Hozier-Byrne riffs a phrase of amens. And his decidedly provocative lyrics call for an embodied theology that takes the human condition as seriously as the incarnation makes it out to be. Really good stuff.

Enter the video. [Trigger Warning: Disturbing Violence]

It’s a stark visual exploration of experience of finding love and belonging amidst a culture that demands secrecy, isolation, and fear through intimidation and violence that is too frequently enshrined in religious values.

That’s a very clinical way of saying it wrecked me in a way that was too close for comfort.

Next, enter the Lebron James commercial featuring the song, that aired while I watched the last Seahawks game.

“I’ve got to look up that song,” said my friend. To which I replied, “I have a link to it somewhere. It’s amazing, but the video is REALLY disturbing.”┬áTruthfully, I couldn’t remember anything about the content of the video. I’d pressed it out of my mind, but the music had brought back my strong reaction, and all I knew was that it had been a source of disruption.

Then I watched the video again.

I’ve written a good deal about grief in my process of coming out, in wrestling to find my voice in the church, and in taking my place at the Christian table. But this song, with it’s arresting melody and hookline dug into me in a different kind of way.

I started this fall with a pilgrimage of sorts, walking for four days, by myself, along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was my first solo backpacking excursion, and I decided to walk as a way of exploring and unpacking the grief that I’ve found as the landscape upon which my life of faith has unfolded and found me flourishing.

It’s a strange thing to describe–walking as prayer; grief as a journey into a bodied experience; locating faith in wilderness. And this is a true gift: when the world offers up strange moments where our lives open up to us with clarity, if not with ease.

In the mirror of mountains and rivers, of deserts and oceans, we catch glimpses of how our spiritual and psychological selves are not disconnected from our human experience of being creaturely selves who are a part of a whole world that is, itself, subject to devastation and repair.

If there is any redemption worth pursuing, it must be in body; it must deal with the messiness of breakdown, lovemaking, aging, injury, hunger & thirst, interdependence, isolation, and deep connection to the earth. And this is something of what “Take Me to Church” is all about.

It’s about asking the deep questions of God, our religions, our communities, and the world–questions about belonging. Is there room in your cosmology for my body–my human experience? Is God found in places where our bodies open up to one another to offer shared love and mutuality or in places governed by fear of transgression that overflow into acts of violence in word and deed?


I’ve lost so much life trying to protect myself from people and communities that were supposed to be protecting me–supposed to be offering a space where I could be a member of the community, growing into the flourishing life of God’s work and play in the world.

And there is much to grieve. On my third day of hiking I crossed three mountainsides of skeletal trunks of fir trees, bleached white with decades under relentless sun and wind, following a fire. The ground was hot and dry; rocks exposed by erosion that raked away millennia of forest soil.

I wept as I touched the desiccated bodies of the unburied dead, still lingering across the hillside. Each excoriated tree, a hollow memory of billions of needles synthesizing sunlight and carbon into a massive gathering of life that offered life, now lost. And though these mountains will recover, it will not be in my lifetime–not by the measures of soil inches or canopy, raised 200 feet towards sky.

But there are Doug Firs, as old as I am, and three feet tall.

Though small, they, along with marmots, lichen, and songbirds, are feeding on the nourishment wrought from grief, to offer back a way towards another iteration of thriving forest. And this, too, leaves me weeping.

The grief is real and the life is real. They aren’t exactly linear or causal in relationship, but the reality is that they hang together in a history that is not the way I would like to have seen it unfold. Loss and life do not cancel each other out in some cosmic equation.

In the narrative of Christianity, resurrected bodies carry wounds. And hope born out of grief is always marked by body’s memory work of facing death–which is another way of saying, life that is pulled through the abandonment of death, while gaunt and trembling, is a holy force, not to be trifled with.

As I have wondered about the space opened up in me through my brief time in the wilderness, I am realizing the recognition that I need the reflection of the landscape to speak back to me the unspeakable spaces that live within my body, where I have struggled to draw nutrients for my life of faith out of a soil eroded of capacity to feed me what I needed to thrive.

One myth that the song “Take Me to Church” challenges, is that God is encapsulated in the thunder, earthquake, and whirlwind of churches that espouse a theology in which God is at war with human peculiarity. Instead, it insists that God is present with us, in our bodies and our bedrooms, moving towards us in all the failings and flowering of our humanity.

In my own life, I’ve encountered a God who is gracious enough to weep with me after the wildfires of well-meaning people who have employed theologies to try to strip away the parts of me they deemed unfit in the ecology of God’s community.┬áThis is not to say that the church has been devoid of goodness for me as a gay man. It is just that the goodness has come primarily as a counter-narrative of redemption within a broader landscape of devastation.

Rather than attempting to weave gold from straw, or overhaul the entire system to try to make do, the slow trek towards life begins (from my perspective), with attunement to the acres of grief inside of me and feeling the space opened up by loss of what should have been present. It is in these spaces, these gaps of abandonment, where life is pulled out of us through our bodies for the life of the world.

I do not yet know what these words mean. But I know that I am in the slow work of growing a forest. Or perhaps of simply witnessing the forest being grown in the space that grief is reclaiming from narratives of death and violence that I have experienced in the church. And this kind of space feels capable, at last, of offering room for me, in my body, to be welcomed into the sacred communion of the giver of life.


This is the 23rd post in the series “Queering The Christian Table.” Feel free to browse through older posts or start at the beginning by clicking the tab at the top of the page


So, You Want to Come Out: The Most Important Step You’re Going to Take

Contrary to what it sounds like, coming out is not a one-time event. No one wakes up, realizes they’ve been living in a closet that is far too dark, lonely, and small, and then just pops open the door and sashays out, once and for all.

Oh, that it were as simple as setting up your phone camera on a shelf for your video of the moment you tell your mother that you’ve always known you were a lesbian.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good coming-out video as much as the next person. I’ve cried through dozens of them through the years. And my hunch is that the reasons we make these videos are similar to the reasons we watch them. For folks who have lived much of our lives in closets constructed of fear and shame, there is hope in seeing the faces of people with the courage and vulnerability to declare that they are human beings worthy of love and acceptance.

The closet constructed by persistent heteronormativity and homophobia in society works to erase LGBTIQ faces from history, family, schools, workplaces, leadership, faith communities, and public life. Coming out disrupts these norms, making our faces visible. And the courage to be seen, by ourselves and those around us, is fundamentally about reclaiming our right to have faces.

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the non-conforming gender performance, hairstyle, body language, makeup, or clothing of someone who identifies in some way as LGBTIQ, you should know this: It’s not about you!

As people, our bodies and lives do not exist to make other people comfortable. The closet metaphor works for me, because closets are places where people keep sweaters–objects that can be wrapped around one’s own body to insulate from what feels uncomfortable in the world. But LGBTIQ folks are not sweaters.

So, coming out is, at it’s core, a way of claiming proof of our existence in the world.

This is why we march in parades, phone-bank for civil rights, volunteer for HIV-AIDS relief organizations, fight racism, misogyny and other kinds of oppression, dress in drag, perform burlesque, make youtube videos, lead in religious communities, join GSAs, and build robust and welcoming families of choice. We live full, complex lives that celebrate our gender and sexual orientation as a wonderful part of who we are, and namely, we get to be seen for who we are in community.

The most important step in this coming out process is always the same. I know that’s a big claim, but hear me out.

It’s the same step that you will have to take to come out to yourself, to your friends and family, at your workplace, on the bus, at school, in your church, mosque, temple, or synagogue. In fact, you’ll have to take this step inside of yourself every single step along your journey of coming out of the closet and living courageously in the world.

The most important step is having the courage to believe that you deserve to be seen and loved.


If you’ve lived in the closet this long, you know something about fear and the courage it takes to survive. You’re already a hero in my book, for finding the resources within yourself to seek some measure of safety in order to make it in a world that says you do not exist.

Coming out is difficult, and you should do it in your own time, when you are ready for it. But know this: you are worthy of being seen and loved and you already have the immense courage it takes to take this step, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Right now, you may not feel like you have that courage. And that’s okay. I know that you exist in the world. I am proud of you for even thinking about this step of coming out.

Sometimes, when we’ve lived our lives behind the door that society holds shut to conceal our existence, we begin to believe the lie that we don’t deserve to live and be seen–to be loved for who we are. And it’s nearly impossible to start loving ourselves in this situation.

To get there, I want you to stand in front of a mirror and look at your face. Say, “You are beautiful. You are loved. I love you. You are welcome in this world.” I know, it’s going to seem hokey the first 300 times that you do this, but you need to hear this–from yourself.

But really, we don’t start loving ourselves out of nowhere. We are social creatures and our personhood is developed in relationship. This is why, to keep growing, you’re going to need to come out at some point. If there’s one person that you are out to who is supportive, talk to them. Let that relationship remind you that you have a face; that you are worthy of love and respect as a person in this world.


And if you don’t have anyone that you are out to, know this: I love you. You are beautiful. And you are welcome in this world. I will hold onto those words for you until you are able to look at yourself and say them with confidence and sincerity. If you’re in (or near) Seattle, get in touch–we’ll get coffee. If you’re farther away, same thing (we’ll just need to Skype).

Just know that you are not alone. You are no one’s sweater. You exist; you have a face; you are loved and deserve to be loved for who you are.

Happy Coming-Out Day. Today, and every day that you decide you are worth living for.

You are worth living for.