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Things I've written about religion

Eight of ten

When I first set foot in the Old Catholic Church to attend an All Saints service, I knew I had found a special place. Today is the third time I make it to their service, which is always on the second Sunday of the month.

It just so happens that this second Sunday falls on Easter, and it’s perhaps because of this that the service is more crowded than previous times. I see All Saints regulars as well as new people, shy and seemingly hopeful.

One woman in particular stands out to me because she smiles intently at me a few times. She has the demeanor of that good Christian girl from that Office US episode “Christening”.

After service she finds me immediately: “You’re Zinzy from Queer Salon, right?” Annika says. Pre-pandemic memories begin to surface, and once she mentions her son I remember her again. “The first time I came here, I thought of you”, she says. We shmooze over crackers and sweet bread, exchange numbers to set a coffee date.

This new church is really a pilot by two reverends hoping to bring fully inclusive Christianity to the Amsterdam expat community. This is service eight out of ten. When I say that out loud, Reverend Howie casually says “yes, we’ll have to talk about that next time.”

I already can’t imagine myself without this community.

All Saints Amsterdam

She blesses Anja, me, and a handful of other people who carved out time in their Sunday evenings to come to Church. I have never been inside this particular church building before, and chuckle at how new the Old Catholic decor is: in imagery and candle lighting possibilities it’s reminiscent of the average Dutch Roman Catholic church. Its white walls and central heating tell me something different.

You may think I chose this church because the woman blessing us is Desmond Tutu’s daughter, the Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, and because Anja and I can’t help but fangirl. I’m here because she’s a Black queer person leading a church service that I can attend in person. I never thought I would see the day.

Dare I wonder whether I have found a new church in All Saints Amsterdam?

A believable truth

I never get much reading done unless I’m sleeping elsewhere. Most often, I associate sleeping elsewhere with having time off, and having time off means I’m away from a computer screen. This frees up time for reading.

Anja had booked a suite for my birthday at Okura, and six months after I turn 33, Covid measures are finally so mild that we actually get to do it. It’s on the sixteenth floor, overlooking the Amsterdam Centre and West Side. We eat like royalty, and fall asleep watching the sunset from our California King. I’m feeling like a million bucks.

Whenever we sleep elsewhere, I get overwhelmed with the endless possibilities of the things I can read. Usually, I manage to sneak five books into a suitcase, but for this weekend, I’ve limited myself to one: Mary Magdalene Revealed.

It’s a remarkable read, particularly given that the author Meggan Watterson got an MDiv and not an MFA in writing. Her words flow like a river, entirely sure of where she’s going. Every now and then, I’ll read a portion aloud to A, to share the joy of reading a theological work that is as inclusive and self-aware as it is unreserved and educational.

As I share snippets of insights, revelations in sweat lodges as well as things I never knew about the beauty of early Christianity, A asks me: “Don’t you find this book a bit… The Da Vinci Code-esque? I mean, all this talk of Mary Magdalene’s special relationship with Jesus, alternative plot lines… It’s like it’s all one big conspiracy theory, wouldn’t you say?”

A’s not the only woman who has made such remarks about this book. Isn’t it peculiar that feminists would rather deem femininity-inclusive gospels closer to possibly the worst book in the English language that has emerged in the past decade than to a perspective on Christ that could cure our heartaches?

When Jesus sent out his Twelve

This was written as part of Vine & Fig’s Sunday Scripture reflection project.

When Jesus sent out his Twelve, He told them: “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.

Last week, a friend of ours in the Vine & Fig community asked me to proofread a letter. It was addressed to her parents, and it asked, in the calm voice of a young woman embracing adulthood, whether or not she and her female partner could count on the same respect, dignity, and love that she saw flow from her parents to her siblings and their partners. Our friend and her partner had just moved in together, and things had gotten serious enough that an introduction was in order, even for her huge anti-queer Catholic family.

The letter asked, and it did not barter.

“Oh, this is not the first draft,” she tells me after I compliment her vulnerability and bravery, “the first one was me basically begging to be loved.” From where I’m sitting, I can see that this isn’t the first time our friend has had to beg. Her father and mother never seemed to have gotten this whole queer thing. They’ve been waiting for “this phase” to end for years. In their household, there is simply no “love for the gays”. It took a conversation with our friend’s future mother-in-law to make her look at her parents with her eyes open a little wider.

“You don’t need your parents as much as you think you do” the woman had said.

I imagine our friend crawling out from under the rubble left by the type of guilt only a Catholic parent can channel. I imagine the many lives in our community, with varying degrees of urgency, transforming as we come to understand the difference between a hurt that grows from love and one that grows from neglect.

I imagine all of us building a home, knocking on doors to see who will help us share love the way we see it, and learning to shake the dust off our boots and moving right along, even if it requires making a whole family from scratch.

Family, or notes from the battlefield

As soon as she hands you the gift
you know it’s another one
“Trans Life Survivors”
says the cover
“Merry Christmas!”
says your sister
you have only been using
they/them pronouns
in private
for a year or so
it’ll look so beautiful next to
the ex-gay book
your other sister presented to you
on your birthday last month

At family dinner you
spend bathroom breaks in your
childhood bedroom
five in total
logging on to talk to us
about how the heavy things feel
being the punching bag
on which your 11-year-old cousin
practises her right hook
screaming fire about
her trans classmate
it stings
like a shattered jaw

Your father-in-law planned a
Christmas pub crawl of sorts
each of the siblings hosting
the entire family
for a portion of the day
hopping from house to house
eating, drinking, loving the way only
a big family will
At the fourth stop you are full
zonking off into the distance
catching the smiling face of your
sister-in-law on the way there
and you remember what
it felt like when
she wouldn’t come to your lesbian wedding

For you and them
there is no Family
not since you came out as non-binary
and your parents
“check please”
the only trace of
those you came from
is the card your grandmother sent
She writes “I wanted you to
know I support you”
She is a sweetheart
it is a teardrop in the desert
that you cling to

Your father was no exception
first the pandemic
now the respirator
the store has been extra busy these days
but you’re getting by
it’s keeping your mind off
of how much he was hoping
you’ll find a girl someday soon
Today, the phone call
from the hospital
lets you know that
he can come home for Christmas
The disappointment you feel
sits in your body like a monster

You have all the time in the world
to tell me how you’re doing
but not a moment to yourself
to commit to the act
with all those relatives in the house
prone to restricting themselves to
those parts of the Bible
that make Christianity look easy
and you being back
in the home of your youth
after the attempt
confirms what you fear and
what your parents have been saying
is true about your life
“I have no love for the gays in my heart”
your father said
You wonder how gay
he knows you are
I wonder where you’ve hidden
the Pride flag that I sent you
as a housewarming gift

Colossians 3:26 The freedom of the Lord is the wisdom to decide who is truly your sister, your brother, your father, your mother. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

This is a Scripture reflection on The Holy Family of Jesus, mary and Joseph, written for Vine & Fig.

Of bridges and neighbors

When I first learned that ‘pontifex’, Pope Francis’ Twitter account, is Latin for ‘bridge builder’, I was entirely delighted. “How wonderful”, I thought, “that our institution sees the value in a Pope who builds bridges between the Church and the rest of humanity.”

When I look at myself with kind eyes, I dare to see the ways in which I myself help build these bridges. As a queer facilitator, I’m part of the leadership team at Vine & Fig, a community for affirming LGBTQIA+ Catholics. When it comes to the bridge between us and the rest of the world, I focus most of my efforts on building not the bridge’s deck but its foundation. The part that contains the strong back and self love required to even begin thinking about making it to the deck, which is where all the difficult dialogues happen. You know, the ones about whether or not we’re inherently disordered and whether we should ever experience physical intimacy.

This image of a bridge stretching from the feet of one group to another fits in beautifully with my theology. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law, the rest is commentary.

My fantasy of pontifical bridges stretching from one people to the next was quite short-lived. “It’s a bridge between mankind and God, babe, not Catholics and everybody else”, my partner mumbled. An anti-clerical lesbian raised on the feminism of her Jewish hippie mom, she doesn’t own a pair of rosy glasses polished by my warm memories of Christmas-time pews overflowing with chilly bodies in warm coats. The Church does not invoke tender feelings of heritage for her. Wikipedia told me she was right about where that bridge leads.

While our Pope is our bridge, he is also a model. He reminds us, simply by showing up, that we must strive for a connection with God; one that will help us believe the correct thing and do what is righteous, so that we will not be forgotten when the time comes. We dream, for ourselves and for our neighbors, of bridges, thick as concrete, paved smoothly with whatever pleases the Lord as well as our abstinence from sin. We have that light, and by God, we will bring salvation to the ends of the Earth.

Today, as we read Romans 10, which is to say Paul’s conversion strategy for the Jews and Gentiles, we get to meditate on that light, and how beautiful it is that we can share it with our neighbors. In the days of the men who wrote what we’ve come to know as the Pauline Epistles, the act of embracing Gentiles and Jews alike in the image of Christ must have been such a beautiful, tender aspiration. Today, however, their words evoke something different altogether. They remind me that those of us who don’t think the Epistle to the Romans should come with a trigger warning, simply haven’t spent enough time with actual Jews. Or really any person who has felt the foot of the Church on their own foot.

See, there’s a thing us Christians are primed to overlook when we engage with the world, filled with the warmth of Jesus: we are taught to long for that strong spiritual connection with The Above so fervently, that we often do it at the expense of whoever else is with us in The Below. Why do so many of our bridges lean on the backs of others?

Tell the Jews the Messiah has already come and how they’re missing out. Make sure you make ‘em really feel it. Take their book and forget it was ever even theirs. Don’t vaccinate. Don’t gay. Choose purity culture over an actual human’s life, choose a pastor over a child. Choose a child over a woman, choose one color over the others. Go to Africa and do things so that you feel charitable. Go anywhere but home to help your neighbor.

As we welcome the Season of advent — and truly, I hope it will fill our sore hearts with anticipation and longing — I want to begin reimagining the bridge between myself and God. May it be paved with whatever pleases Her as well as my abstinence from sin. May it remind me that I am allowed a seat at the table, and that this table is one to share. May my bridge be made up of all the bridges I build between myself and my neighbors, so that we may travel between this island and another.

This Scripture reflection originally appeared as part of the advent project by Call To Action USA.

Hell is other people

Let’s meditate on us scattered sheep today, shall we? After all, if not scattered, then what are we? It has become a running gag in our household. I will be reading the New York Times, shaking my fist at whomever is responsible for the failed separation of Church and State. Or perhaps I’m mad at those who think their Christian inclination allows them to dictate what happens in other people’s bodies. My Jewish partner will do the eye roll of eye rolls and say: “funny how you all kind of do that, wouldn’t you agree?”

She’s right: we Christians have a peculiar propensity for thinking ourselves better than the rest. And I’m not talking communal, but rather individual superiority. It’s really quite basic. We all have our individual interpretation of what signifies the core and what is merely peripheral in God’s message to the people. I may very well believe that God’s love can triumph when we give queer people room to breathe (which is to say to live, love, and all that comes with it), but another equally Christian Christian may think this triumph of love requires the exact opposite response. Despite this reality, we deem ourselves the Good Follower, and the other one Not A Real Christian.

Hell is other people.

When I open my Bible to Ezekiel 34, I hear the echo of the Parable of the Lost Sheep:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

There’s something so tender and kind in both these texts; no matter who or where or how lost, we are all equally important to God. Even when we sin, through repentance we can be found again. But who is a sinner and who needs repentance?

To many people in the flock, the entire Vine & Fig community is a sinner in need of repentance. Disguised as well-intended good Christian ministry, their anti-queer violence saturates our daily lives. And let’s be clear: when I say violence, I don’t just mean the 350 trans and gender diverse individuals who were murdered in the past twelve months. I mean your brother who didn’t come to your wedding, and your mother who keeps saying she “doesn’t believe in gender diversity”. I mean your employer who forces you to sign a document indicating that you condemn homosexuality while you try to hide your girlfriend from your Instagram timeline. I mean the godawful things your siblings parrot over Sunday supper, and your father reminding them all that he has no love in his heart for gay people.

Jesus Christ, it’s great that you have your flock, my man, but should we queer people even want to be a part of it?


I’d like to think ‘yes’.

Because hell is other people, and during our journey towards them we encounter God. When I dive deeper into Ezekiel 34 and the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the words take on a new meaning. To me, they are not a personal consolation, reminding me that I will be found if I’m lost. They tell me, above anything, that I am part of a single enormous flock, made up of everyone, filled with people whom I think are lost, and who, in turn, believe that I’ve gone astray. The passage tells me to love God above all else, and my neighbor as myself. Even if that neighbor is keeping their foot on my foot.

“What might that love look like?” we all rightfully ask, immediately. In my case, love may be a ‘yes’ and it may be a ‘no’.

A “yes, you are right, thank you for teaching me about yourself.”

Or a “no, what you are saying about me and my siblings is false, destructive, and traumatizing. Here, let me help you see things through a new lens so that we can coexist.”

Through God, I am granted the wisdom to know the difference.


This Scripture reflection originally appeared as part of the Sunday Reflections project on Vine & Fig.

The benefit of discontent

If you are at all involved in queer Catholic Twitter, you know that last week was a riot. Cause célèbre was an unexpected shout-out from Pope Francis:

Pope Francis told a group of parents of L.G.B.T. children yesterday that “God loves your children as they are” and “the church loves your children as they are because they are children of God.” — America Magazine

My timeline was flooded, and understandably so: the Catholic Church hasn’t profiled itself as a boundary-pushing institution on very many occassions. My most vivid recollection of the Church’s stance on sexual matters is JP II blaming the child abuse horror on the gays.

Since I became involved in queer Catholic collective Vine & Fig, I have learnt something about myself and that is that I am very privileged. While many of my queer Catholic siblings fight daily battles for their identities and experiences with the people in their homes and lives, I’m only a single Pride Week removed from walking into Sunday Mass in a three-piece rainbow suit and a pink yarmulke.

Because of this privileged confidence, I appreciate the shout-out, but I have no need for it. I know that:

God “endorsed” LGBTQ+ people when he created us. — Matt Nightingale

Still, to most affirming queer Catholics everywhere, Pope Francis’ message was a godsend.


Pope Francis certainly is not the first religious person to say that we queer individuals are children of God. Many affirming religious institutions, organizations, and individuals paved the way for him.

There’s something here that requires our close attention.

Welcoming-yet-staunchly-anti-queer congregations, Christians evangelizing ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ rhetoric, and conversion ‘therapy’ programmes have been saying that we are loved by God for decades. Their message doesn’t ever usher in the paradigm shift we hope for. Much rather, it invites queer people to be vulnerable, and then once we are, things take a turn for the worse.

‘Queer people are children of God’ can be a godsend, and it can be a dog whistle. A poetic way of saying ‘oh it’s okay to be queer, it’s just very wrong to do it’, without having to take full responsibility for the origin and ramifications of your anti-queerness. After all, if your conviction is that queerness is a character flaw and not a glorious attribute inextricably connected to the soul, then technically you’re not lying. It’s a simple ‘Queer people are children of God, they just need to be saved’, if you want it to be.

This particular form of anti-queerness has the potential to be much more damaging than the odd ‘hey you, dyke!’ I may receive in the streets of Amsterdam. It reels us in and makes us believe we are safe. It is reminiscent of the dad in Get Out, who would’ve voted for Obama a third time but who also performs horror procedures on Black humans in his basement. It’s reminiscent of the friendly, middle-aged, Austrian trumpet player who has a nazi shrine for a basement in Im Keller.

‘The church loves our children as they are’ unsettles me, because I have been on the receiving end of an anti-queerness (and a racism, for that matter) that is very friendly and welcoming at face value. Its eventual uncanniness is terrifying. I want to know what’s in the basement. And as you know: with every good story, there’s always a basement.


This was originally published as part of the Vine & Fig “Pray Tell” project.

She sounds quite chipper once she makes it to the telephone. ‘Hey dear!’ it sounds. ‘Happy Mother’s Day’, I go. A few years ago, when I decided that I was going to transition into low contact mode with my mother, I couldn’t have imagined that Mother’s Day was going to be like this.

As many countries celebrate moms today, we remember that, on Mother’s Day last year, we saw my stepfather leave for the hospital, never to return again. The anniversary of his death is next week. Given the trajectory of my life, celebrating my mother’s parenting abilities seems ridiculous, but given the calendar, keeping a distance between us on this very day seems cruel.

As the daughter of my mother, I am two individuals. I am at once the person she wants to see, the one who overcame childhood troubles to arrive in adulthood a loving and supportive daughter. Also, though, I am the adult who just graduated from over two decades of therapy, someone who is active in those corners of Reddit where people go to discuss parental emotional abuse. My attachment to both of my parents is so disturbed that close contact is not really possible.

I remind myself vaguely of my expat friends, the gay ones who came to Amsterdam to escape their queerphobic countries. When they talk on the phone with their parents, they have to ignore so many parts of their personality that they become other people. They don’t really have a choice.

And I do, at least, this much I’m told by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

After all, a good Catholic is someone who honors their father and mother. Sometimes, after working myself into a frenzy thinking about this, I research Catholic teachings on the healthy and God-loving child-parent relationship. My clobber passages are not the ones about queerness. They are those verses that tell me that children who don’t provide for their parents are worse than unbelievers. That it pleases the Lord when I obey my mother in everything. I don’t experience any spiritual rewards of peace and prosperity when I honor my parents the way the Bible (or society) teaches me. I experience the opposite.

‘Jews have the same teachings, you know’ my favorite person will say. ‘Really?!’ ‘Yes, you… stole our book, remember?’ it will follow, jokingly but only because there’s truth in most jokes. Two things are true, she says. ‘One: biological parents aren’t the only ones doing the parenting. Take Grandma Dora, for example. You always tell me how safe and welcome you felt in her home. Now that is a parent.’ ‘And two?’, I’ll ask, hopeful. ‘Two: it’s up to you to decide what constitutes honoring your parents. Either you can decide, or you can be miserable.’

I’m trying.

How to live for God

I’ve heard someone compare it to the relationship between a parent and a child. I imagine a child wanting to create a birthday card for his mother, opting to draw her portrait on the cover. Does that child draw a lifelike portrait of his mother? No, but it sure is endearing. I just want to draw the most beautiful portrait I can with the colors I got from my Mother.

A fellow seminarian