It’s Official. I’m Leaving.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Chicago for our third stop on the 2014 Level Ground Road Show. It was a great day and maybe one our most successful events yet. For the last program slot of the day, Derek Webb played a short concert intermixed with short stories from his life. He talked about inspirations for his songs, about his career of speaking out despite consequences, and even got a little unabashedly preachy.

My experience of church as a gay person over the past several years has made me wary and distrustful of worship-like experiences. So while I see enormous value in programming someone like Derek Webb to be a part of our festival, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about participating myself.

So I prepared myself…

“Chelsea, there is going to be Jesus-y language, maybe even some talk of sin and salvation. You will live through it and a lot of other people might even like it.”

“Yeah, yeah I know.”

Having prepped, I planted myself in the back of the room.

Then it started. And as he began to play, he opened his mouth and the words, “I was wrong, I’m sorry and I love you,” came out. And with those simple words, I slowly began to disarm.

I can’t fully explain it and I don’t even know if it was just nice to feel safe in a worship setting again but I felt peace unlike I had felt it in a long time—the kind of peace that reminds you who God is.

Later in the evening, Webb talked about his the inspiration for his song, “Rich Young Ruler.” I was weighing over a major life decision and his words stuck with me. He talked about the story of the rich man in the Gospels being less about wealth and poverty and more about personal sacrifice, be it of any kind. I had known what I needed to do but in that moment I saw it all the more clearly.

These past few years have been the best years of my life. I have made a family here and the best friends I could have ever asked for. I love you all more than you know and I am grateful to each and every one of you for your impact on my life.

I became whole here. I learned to love myself for the first time here. I learned what it means to exist with people in deep meaningful ways that are so very different from me. I witnessed how sustainability is a lifestyle and mindset not just a practice. I found my faith again—a faith that is not alone, that has potential to shape whole communities and that I’m proud to represent. In every way, that is thanks to all of you, my beloved friends.

Southern California has undoubtedly become my home.

However, these past few years have also at times been the worst. I dealt with bouts of depression and watched friends do the same, went through an ugly breakup, was evicted from my home, oftentimes questioned whether God exists, trudged through a family’s friends overdose, and got in a serious amount of debt.

That’s how life is though—death and life, all at the same time. That is, in fact, the hope of the resurrection (here I am getting Jesus-y). That life doesn’t end at death, even in our momentary experiences of it.

And with a sense of hopefulness and grief, I am writing to tell you I am leaving this place I have called home for three years at the end of October. As much as I don’t want to say goodbye, it is time.

I have felt for some time that I have been spinning my wheels trying to get out of debt, make ends meet, and pursue my dreams, none of which has been working. Meanwhile, over the past six weeks, Amanda has been going through a process of discernment that has ultimately led her to leave Chick-fil-A.

With the high cost of living in LA, we feel it is best to move where we can put our feet on the ground again and hit the reset button for a couple months. This has been an extraordinarily hard decision for us but we both believe it to be a necessary and even good one.

So peace be with you, my brothers and sisters. I love you all.

What you need to know:

  • First and foremost, I am NOT leaving Level Ground. Things are alive and well with LG. I still love it and wholeheartedly believe in what we are doing. Because I have less pressure on my personal finances, I actually will be more capable of giving my time to LG after we move.
  • We are leaving the state on October 28th. So let’s make plans to hang out before then.
  • We are moving to Knoxville, TN to live with the Halligans in their in-laws suite for approximately 6 months until we are able to pay down debt and save money to make a more permanent move (Thank Kenny and Kathy!).
  • Our ultimate hope is to land potentially in Portland, SoCal, or Atlanta. These aren’t set in stone but they likely our options.
  • I am still pursuing film and would welcome any connections to anyone who can help me continue working as a PA or camera operator in East TN.

Want to see us before we leave:

We will probably plan some sort shindig before we go but, most importantly, you should all attend the Level Ground Fall Party. It’s free!! I mean you all know LG can throw a kick ass party and on top of that, Amanda and I will both be there. This is a super easy way to say goodbye just two days before we leave and support a good cause at the same time. RSVP here.

How you can support us:

  • Help us pack. Amanda is getting surgery on her foot on Tuesday and will be basically immobile for two months so I will be doing a majority of the moving. So please come help!
  • Buy our shit. We are selling basically all of furniture and some of it is pretty awesome.
  • Give to Level Ground. Become a monthly donor even if it’s only $10 dollars a month. This is my life’s work and, in so many ways, Level Ground is a reflection of my (and Sam’s) experience forming community with each of you. You can set up monthly giving here.

Hi, I am white and I’m a racist

Earlier this week my friend Todd posted an article on Facebook written by a friend of his entitled “Silence Makes White People Racist” accompanied with a status that stated, “reading it was like swallowing a hot fork.”[1] I would say his remarks hit the nail on the head.

I pride myself on being someone who is fairly attuned to systemic oppression. Being gay makes me acutely aware of this reality because I experience it daily. I know that, in most states, I may not get a job or could be fired because of my sexual orientation[2], or a homeowner may not rent me their home.[3] I am not welcome in many churches, synagogues, or (most) mosques. There are a number of countries where I could be justly killed or at best imprisoned.[4] So much for that vacation in Jamaica.[5]

And those are just the ways the system is bent away from LGBTQ people. It doesn’t account for the stares when I walk down the street wearing a shirt that has the word “lesbian” on it or the large number of people I conveniently avoid talking with about a large portion of my life.

But none of that changes the fact that at the end of day I am a racist. I run a non-profit called Level Ground (onlevelground.org) that seeks to bring people together who disagree with each other in regards to faith, gender and sexuality in hopes that in having people meet their “other” we can elevate what has historically been a very malicious conversation. A task that is not all that different from what Taylor is seeking when she encourages white liberals to speak with black Americans not for them.

The reality is, though, it is different. I may be someone who wants to see the world learn to disagree better in regards to gay people but I am also still someone who was silent when the world grieved the death of Trayvon Martin in Zimmerman’s verdict. I am still that white person that moves into black neighborhoods and talks about having black friends growing up all the while failing to stand with my African-American brothers and sisters when the Voting Rights Act was struck down. I am sadly that white person who claims to be so culturally aware and still knowingly benefits from a system that privileges me for being white.

Yes, I am woman. Yes, I am gay. Yes, I am also a racist, not by choice or intent but by the very nature of skin color. And to me, Taylor’s article wasn’t an opportunity for me to justify or parade around all of the ways in which I attempt to be for social justice. Instead, I think her article was a call to repentance.

So I am sorry… for my silence, for my half-hearted attempts to be aware of my whiteness, for falsely claiming to being the same in my oppression, for the infinite ways in which even this article is offensive or misses the boat entirely, and for my utter failure to fully recognize they ways I am a privileged white person.

Teach me. Guide me. I want to listen and learn. Help me stand with instead of stand for the black community. Please always remind me to repent.

At the End of Words…

I am working on something more verbose in regards to today but until then, here is some poetry I wrote a couple weeks ago that is relevant now.

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My bones caress the aching of my heart.

“Who will love me?”

Torn between possession and craze, the heart chooses…

Breathe, lungs.

Their rhythmic comfort soothes the heart.

But bones, bones are forceful. They move without permission, coercing the heart into unsteadiness, quickness.

“Where are we going?”

Forgetful, the heart is captivated by the strength and confidence of the bones.

“I know who loves me.”

Breathe is squelched, the heart fails to remember, bones are crushing.

Blindly defeated.

“I am dead.”

A Cause for Cambial

There are really only two reasons for the name of my blog that you need to know…

First… Cambial is the type of growth a tree undergoes and I believe there is something beautifully analogous about the life and growth of a tree to our shared human experience.

Second… I really love alliteration.

A little over two years ago at a small conference in D.C., I was doodling on my notebook, drawing what I had hoped would be my next tattoo. It looked a little something like this…

 

By the time I scribbled this down, these rooted giants had already begun to be a source of fascination. However, if you had asked me a year ago why I wanted a tree tattoo, the answer you would have gotten in return would have been something along the lines of endless ramblings that bored you to tears about why I thought trees were cool.

Fast forward to the present. That hodgepodge penned down picture of a tree has now traveled with me from Baltimore back to my childhood home, flown tucked away in my backpack for a move to California, and finally managed to survive yet again through the rather disheveled move to a new apartment down the block. But the image has evolved significantly over the time of its travels. It has gained new meaning, more depth. The tattoo I once desired out of intrigue has now become a symbol for my life.

Every winter a tree dies. Its leaves fall to the ground. It goes dormant. It is unable to produce fruit, to achieve its very purpose. Ironically, however, this is exactly how it grows – how it produces new life – because each spring winter’s death brings about flowers, reproduction, new height, wider girth, and deeper roots.

And this process is not only seasonal; it is daily, too. A tree grows under the constant reality that at any given moment in time, only 1% of its cells are living…1%! Are you getting what this means? On a day-to-day basis the only living part of the tree is its bark and outermost ring. It means that the tree literally lives in, through, and because of death. 1% life, 99% death.

Therein lies the beautiful analogy. The unattainable balance. A symbol to live by. It is only through our experiences of death that we live. Rather than run, why not embrace our rootedness in the cycle of life and death? Because whether we like it or not, winter always comes. It is my conviction that it’s how we sit in the times of winter that matters.

For more thoughts on life and death check out… http://samsstorybook.com/2012/10/30/we-are-what-we-eat/