Thanks, COVID-19: Ad-Hoc Solutions for the Sudden Shift to Online Learning

I don’t usually have a reason to talk about my day job on my author platforms, but over the past few days I’ve been seeing friends and acquaintances talk about how they suddenly have to shift to online learning, whether they’re teachers or students, thanks to coronavirus. Though the reason for the change is unwanted, school can still be in session with the help of a few simple tools.

Learn, School, Laptop, Tablet, Headphones, Children

You see, I’m not a teacher. I’m not an administrator. I don’t work directly with students. I have been developing e-learning content for the past 7-8 years. I’m the person that develops the content that Pearson or Discovery Education or whoever publishes, which your school or district then approves. A lot of what I do is ed-tech adjacent–I’m developing content that will be delivered through an online platform, even though I personally only deal with Google Docs and Microsoft Office files.

Given this, I’m used to thinking about how digital tools work with education. However, I recognize that while the “ed industry” has been prepared for virtual learning for years, your local school may not have the infrastructure or interest in that shift. So to have something suddenly forcing this shift may feel overwhelming.

It’ll be an adjustment at first, but you can use digital tools to replicate your brick-and-mortar experience as best as possible. In my opinion, there are two key components in making a digital solution work: real-time collaboration and file transfer. Your ad-hoc ecosystem needs to solve for these issues first just so you can continue with minimal interruption.

Real-time collaboration

Online, Course, Training, Teacher, Computer, Internet

Your sudden shift to the digital world doesn’t have to mean that you no longer have class times. Set up a Slack space or Discord server with your classes–something that enables you to have live voice and video chats. You can still hold your 11am class, just as a conference call. In Slack or Discord, you can set up individual channels for each class period to enable discussion. You could post a prompt in Slack and ask students to post their responses, or assign students small groups to watch a video and discuss.

Basically, you want a tool that will make quick communication organized and easy, with the options of video and voice conferencing.

File transfer

Finger, Touch, Hand, Structure, Internet, Network

Your students still need to submit assignments to you. One of the best solutions is to create a Google Drive folder (or several) for your classes. Provide students and families with clear instructions on how and where to upload homework files. A Drive folder will keep that work in a single place so it won’t get lost in email attachments or chats. Students can still complete writing assignments and assessments, and you’ll be able to leave comments on their work.

How this can work

Computer, Apple, Business, Workplace, Home Office

I’ll ground this in an English/Language Arts example, since that’s the main area of content development I do in the day job. And I’m gonna add anime references because why not?

So, in My Lit Course Academia, we’re reading Jane Eyre, but my school is closing because of COVID-19! How will I offer my course online?

  1. I make a Slack workspace or Discord server for My Lit Course Academia.
  2. I create separate channels for each of my class periods (e.g., #period_1, #period_7).
  3. I invite all of my students to the workspace/server and they use their emails or usernames to log in.
  4. I invite my #period_1 students to a Google hangout or other video chat for regular class at 8:00am. I hold #period_2 at 9:00am, and so forth, basically keeping the same schedule I had in the building, just online instead!
  5. For group or independent work time, I post a video clip of a film adaptation in Slack/Discord and ask students to discuss several questions about it. I give everyone a chance to respond and may tag specific students if they haven’t responded. (e.g., @Bakugo, we haven’t heard from you yet! How does this clip enhance or detract from this same scene in the book?).
  6. For homework, I post a link to a Google folder and ask students to write a paragraph explaining how Jane Eyre changes over the course of the chapter, then assign the next chapter for reading. I post a link to Jane Eyre on Project Gutenberg for students who don’t have a physical copy of the book.
  7. If I need to give an exam, I can make copies for each student to type directly in the doc. I can also schedule one-on-one video chats for oral exams. For multiple choice and other types of assessment questions, I can use Google Forms.

With a structure like this, I can continue giving my lessons without too much disruption. It’s not the best permanent solution, but it works for the time being.

Long-term planning

Students, Women, Female, Woman, Happy, Girl, Young

We don’t know how long the massive public concern over COVID-19 will last. But after you get up and running with an ad-hoc digital solution, it can’t hurt to plan for this situation being more permanent than we want it to be. You’ll eventually want to look into proper learning management systems (LMS) such as Canvas, Thought Industries, Moodle, or Articulate. These are platforms used to build and deliver entire courses online in a single environment. Most of these will include interactive page elements and auto-graded assessment capabilities. You or your district (most likely your district) may need to begin migrating your courses to an LMS. Some of these platforms will let you create an individual free account so you can try building your content sooner rather than later.

In an ideal world, companies like my day job company work with the content publisher to design and place all the stuff in the platform for you, but if you suddenly have to switch, you may have to do it yourself. While any new tool takes some getting used to, many popular LMS are pretty user-friendly. Canvas in particular has a lot of support documentation to explain how everything works.

COVID-19 may be forcing a faster shift into online learning, and there are still many barriers to overcome in making the switch. Some subject areas are much more challenging to teach virtually than others. But if you have to do it now, you can get started and make it work. You’ll hone your approach over time, but the switch doesn’t have to be as disruptive as you might fear.

This is an oddball post for me. I’m normally here to talk about writing and author things! If you like poetry, be sure to check out my books, Forgive Us Our Trespasses and Lest I Know Your Weakness. Both are available on Amazon. Forgive Us Our Trespasses weaves a tapestry of faith, doubt, hope, and bitterness. Lest I Know Your Weakness retells the vampiric love story of Carmilla in alternating poems.

Why Writers Need to Live a Healthy Lifestyle

I’ve been sitting on making this post for a long time because there are a million ways to approach it and a million more things I want to say about it, but now I’ve finally got some coherent, focused thoughts. Although the finite details of a healthy lifestyle may look different for everyone, I think as writers we should think more seriously about how these lifestyle choices affect our work.

The Harm of the “Stereotypical Writer” Narrative

Copy Space, Design Space, Diary, Feeling, Grayscale

As writers, we know the power stories have. So, what are the stories we often tell ourselves about life as a writer? With a massive bout of exaggeration (because of course jokes are fun), we writers tell ourselves that “being a writer” is something like this:

  • never sleeping
  • drinking an entire pot of coffee every day
  • eating junk food all the time to stay awake and meet deadlines
  • writing while drunk
  • editing while drunk
  • never leaving our desks because we’re writing so much

These make funny Twitter jokes, but if they are truly part of how we live our lives, then we are setting ourselves up for burnout and, sooner or later, our bodies giving up on us. What happens then? We can’t write because our health has declined.

Actually living like this is simply not sustainable. Although these are exaggerated cliches of life as a writer, they still are narratives I’ve heard for years and they are influential. When I was a bit younger, I’d say to myself “Oh I must be a real writer now because of how late I’ve stayed up or because of this wine I’ve got or because I drink a Starbucks latte every day.”

In other words, I’d absorbed the silly narratives about a writer’s life and incorporated them into my own habits because they were so normalized.

Sure, you can criticize me for having a weak mind back then and not having the fortitude to know that no, you can’t actually sustainably live like that, but we writers don’t live in a vacuum. Those of us in developed Western societies live in an entire food ecosystem that is determined to feed us cheap, nutritionally void food products for profit. These food products will only give us a temporary high as our energy spikes and do not give us complete sets of macro or micronutrients for truly balanced health.

Moreover, we often receive and perpetuate similar jokey messages that exercise is boring, torture, or punishment. I rarely see writers talking about exercise habits, likely because our online brands focus mostly on being an engaging person and selling our books or talking about writing. Yet we will share those coffee and alcohol jokes about “the writer’s life.”

I’m not saying you can’t ever have a drink or you can’t ever have coffee. I’m just asking us to look more closely at the narratives we tell ourselves when we talk about what being a writer is like. After all, if we believe that words matter, we will recognize the influence these narratives can have.

Real Food Sustains Us and Our Careers

Asparagus, Steak, Veal Steak, Veal, Meat, Barbecue

If we eat and drink ourselves into immobility and chronic illness, we will not live long enough to tell all the stories we want to tell. We will develop health problems that will take us away from our work. There are a zillion factors in this world that we can’t control ranging from who we are to our particular circumstances, but we do have a great deal of control over how we eat and how/whether we exercise.

The companies that make the vast majority of the processed foods we eat do not care one iota about our health. These manufactured products need marketing and advertising behind them because they have nothing else to offer but a temporary pick-me-up. Whole foods, on the other hand, give us full nutrients in a much more natural context. Whereas processing isolates nutrients and reconfigures them in a highly concentrated form, whole foods present those nutrients to us in a way our bodies have adapted to absorb them over thousands of years.

Eating real food can help prevent us from getting sick, meaning we won’t miss days of writing. It’s a way of loving ourselves and taking care of ourselves so we can keep writing books.

Exercise Can Help Us Mentally

Crossfit, Sports, Fitness, Training, Exercise, Athlete

Just about every writer I know, myself included, has some form of mental illness. Although my anxiety is rather mild and manageable with the lifestyle changes I’ve made over the past 18 months, it’s still there and it still gets the best of me sometimes. But regular exercise at the right intensity often feels like releasing a medicine in my head that untangles all the mental knots. I’ve had many workout days where I’m all twisted up inside, but then the workout resets everything.

I know I will likely always be prone to anxious thoughts. I think it’s my nature as a writer because coming up with the most dramatic scenarios is often the stuff of good fiction, but I often apply that dramatic flair to imagining things in my own life and that’s where the problems arise. Exercise helps to release that tension so I can more easily apply that dramatic thinking just to fiction.

Sometimes, our art comes from our heads being a little (or a lot) messed up, but sometimes that messiness can get in the way of our work. Exercising can release the valve. While it is no replacement for medications, it will certainly help.


Nutrition and fitness are huge topics, but I rarely see them intersect with writing life. However, maybe we should be talking about this more. Maybe we should think more critically about what we say a writer’s lifestyle is, what lifestyles we give to our characters, and how those decisions could influence our readers. This isn’t to say we need a moral puritanism about who and what to portray, just some deeper thought like we would give to any other aspect of writing.

AT Drafting & FDAD Revisions #1

Well! I’ve had a slow month for various reasons, but now I’m balancing drafting my next WIP with revising FDAD and…I really hope revising won’t take as long as drafting. Though the beginning has the most things I need to fix so maybe it’ll go faster later.

I actually do like revising. I know my MC so much better now than I did before and I know exactly where the story’s going, so I can bring to the surface all the foundations and hints that I need to. It’s pretty great. I definitely find it true that revising/editing is where the book really gets made.

Switching gears, though, what can I say about my new WIP? Well, its codename is AT and it’s a contemporary, new adult story that takes place during Holy Week and has a queer progressive Christianity aesthetic (literally no one is surprised by this fact). This is basically a brand new draft of the story, though it’s technically a second draft. Some things I like about it:

  • s y m b o l i s m
  • a good chunk of my church conference experience is relevant to the story
  • ghost
  • friendship was magic, but now it’s sad
  • referencing mewithoutYou without ever saying it explicitly

I’ve struggled with drafting this one, though, because the concept is more serious/sad than FDAD. FDAD feels like a fun shonen anime most of the time (with great amounts of drama) while AT feels like one of those 13-episode, bittersweet shows. So when bad things happen in the wolrd or I’m just not in the best place mentally, drafting AT isn’t cathartic or like an escape. Maybe that’ll change (I hope it does so I can get it done faster).

Until next time!

KyoAni and the Melancholy of My Early Twenties

Somewhere in 2009, me and a few of my close college friends marathoned the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I remembered seeing promotional articles and pictures of the leading lady herself during my stay in China in 2007, but had never gotten around to watching the series until that night.

We’d gotten a hold of the DVDs and knew all about the broadcast order vs. narrative order thing. For the uninitiated, the episodes were broadcast as episode 1, 2, 3, etc., but the story itself was out of order, so to watch the story from start to finish, you actually had to skip around different episodes. This was done intentionally as far as I can remember and it tracked well with the main character’s ability to literally rearrange the world around her.

The DVDs seemed to fix that problem, but I remember explaining the whole thing to my friends. Yet another fun, quirky thing about being an anime fan.

We watched most, if not all of season one that night and heading into summer, Haruhi Suzumiya became my favorite thing. And the best part was sharing the obsession with my two closest friends. Over the next year, we planned what became my first cosplay and I spent an inordinate amount of time learning this dance.

If we were gonna cosplay these characters, that meant really living into them. Plus, this was an era when you couldn’t go to a con without someone playing this song and if I was gonna walk around as Haruhi Suzumiya, I damn well better know my part.

That Otakon was a perfect weekend. Still, as I saw most of the photographs afterward, I made self-depreciating comments because my self esteem was perpetually in the dumps to the point where I had to keep saying it out loud to release some of the pent up negativity.

But pretending to be Haruhi Suzumiya for a weekend–this brash, overly confident character–balanced things out just a little bit. One thing I learned about confidence in the years following is that you fake it ’til you make it. Pretending to be a confident character can eventually help your own mind shift.

Haruhi also became the first anime character I wrote about theologically in a post that appeared on Beneath the Tangles. The link is long gone, but now I might revisit the series and that post as some additional tribute to Kyoto Animation that might mean something to someone else, too.

Speaking of writing, I also have Haruhi to thank for the initial spark of the book I just finished writing. It was 2009 and the very first incarnation of FDAD was entirely discovery-written and based on short story prompts. I had recently read the first Haruhi Suzumiya light novel and for this story, all I knew was that I loved the idea of a normal, contemporary world where one weird thing happens to one bored character who gets access to this whole other existence. That book is still a long way from being out in the world, but should it ever reach that point and gain enough success to be adapted, I’d want Kyoto Animation to do it.

Today, Haruhi is still a problematic fave of mine. Parts of the series absolutely have not aged well and Haruhi’s behavior toward Mikuru in particular is just not okay in any sense. But during my college years, Haruhi was a character who looked like me and had some personality traits that I needed to imitate to begin that long process of no longer hating myself most days.

Lucky Star

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star are like strawberries and chocolate–great on their own, but often enjoyed together. This is largely because KyoAni made both shows and Lucky Star features Aya Hirano as the voice of Konata. Hirano also voiced Haruhi and Lucky Star makes overt Haruhi references, among many others. I always think self-referential in-jokes are hilarious.

So naturally, my love for Haruhi transformed into a love for Lucky Star, which also coincided with my StepMania phase (Dance Dance Revolution for your computer). This meant I spent hours with this 15 minute long jam.

This video is not me doing this step chart, but I played this song at least twice a day for a summer and got quite good at it. At the time, I considered this and the Haruhi dance my only talents and counted that among the weirdness that kept me single.

I remember trying to get a crush at school into Lucky Star. She didn’t even like anime, but gave it a shot anyway ’cause she wanted to hang out I guess. I now have hindsight embarrassment for my past self, especially since that particular situation turned sour (me trying to get people who aren’t into anime into anime is often cringe worthy and something I do my best to avoid).

My first conscious wlw ship was Konata x Kagami. When I watched Lucky Star, I actually saw the potential and the chemistry and it resonated, but I didn’t tell anyone except my best friend (the same one I shared Haruhi with). Other circumstances chased me back into the closet for a few months, but when it was time to consciously recognize that part of myself, Lucky Star was among the many things chipping away at that mental barrier.

In some summer during this whole blur of a period, I spent a few days with my guitar and figured out a medley of Haruhi and Lucky Star songs. It’s nothing special, but I still have it and it shows how much energy I invested into these shows.


K-ON was the cute story my best friend and I needed when lots of things in her life went to shit and my mental health reached the point of negatively affecting other people. Four high school girls in a rock band? I’d had the same exact experience in high school (except there were three of us and it ended badly enough to land me in therapy) and I played guitar, so of course I’d love this show.

My best friend did, too, so K-ON became our next cosplay. It was the first one where I made or altered most of the costume. Doing so taught me how to sew a button and hem a skirt.

We tried roping in our friends to get a full cosplay group, but in the end, just the two of us actually cosplayed–me as Azusa and my best friend as Ristu. It was our last con together before college ended and I already had enough anxiety about graduating. I remember sitting on my bed, still in cosplay, after we’d come back to our dorm from the last day of the con with this impending sense of doom and endings looming over me. I could barely deal with it. I’d just started figuring myself out yet I was mere months away from graduating and leaving all the friends I’d made.

On the other hand, my friend had some intense crises she dealt with and since we were roommates, I saw and was there for a lot of it. So K-ON, among other things, was just this nice show about best friends making music and eating cake that we could retreat into.

Now, in 2019

Though it’s been years since I’ve watched these shows in their entirety, I still have the K-ON poster my friend and I bought together. I still have the Azusa plushy, two of the Haruhi light novels, my DVD collections, and my entire Haruhi cosplay. But most regularly, I revisit the music of these anime. I have a number of K-ON and Haruhi songs on the massive playlist I’ve curated for martial arts training. Many of those songs also appear on my other workout playlists.

In light of this awful, devastating attack on Kyoto Animation, I’m both revisiting these series that meant something at a certain time in my life and also catching up on KyoAni’s more recent works.

But here are some more remnants of being in my late teens/early 20s and loving KyoAni’s work.

Cosplay from 2010 and 2011

haruhi cosplay.jpg
Flip phone energy
haruhi cosplay 2.jpg

k-on cosplay.jpg

k-on cosplay 2.jpg
My actual guitar that I used to play actual K-ON riffs


Three gifts from a friend. These are on display at my day job desk. The potpourri bag is one of many ornaments I got in China.
The K-ON poster my friend and I bought together. This hung in our room during our senior year.
The merch that’s made it through a few purges. I got that magazine while I was in China in 2007.

Inside the Magazine




These outfits are so cool and I had a pipe dream of cosplaying this.





Side note: I also got really into Code Geass for a minute
KyoAni also did a few Full Metal Panic series
Close-up of the cover
No actual Haruhi songs on the CD, but it still has some cool jams




I guess I’ll end with this: Kyoto Animation’s work has left a huge mark on me, one that I failed to fully remember until now because I am so very much past the places I was in emotionally and personally when these shows came into my life. In general, once I’m through with whatever hard thing I’m dealing with mentally, it’s difficult for me to remember, articulate, or re-experience those feelings. So it’s not that I blocked these KyoAni shows out of memory. It’s just that I didn’t have much occasion to revisit these memories until now.

These days, I’m a very casual anime fan. That’s part of the reason why I’m not familiar with KyoAni’s newer work and am now remedying that in the hopes that some of the ad revenue in one way or another gets to them.

Several KyoAni works are available on streaming services if that’s a way that you would like to show support. K-ON, and Love, Chunibyo, & Other Delusions are on Hulu. A Silent Voice and Violet Evergarden are on Netflix. You can find a few others to buy on Amazon Prime. There’s also the GoFundMe, which as of this writing includes information for a bank account Kyoto Animation set up to receive direct donation.

There’s really nothing else I can say. This is sad. It sucks. I wish people would deal with their problems in healthy ways instead of committing mass murder. I know KyoAni will rebuild and continue to make amazing work. The overwhelming outpouring of support and the constantly rising donation fund pool show the global scale of the studio’s impact.

These weird shows will forever have a special place in my heart.

FDAD: A Multi-World Fantasy WIP Update #4 Finished!

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I’ve finally had the satisfaction of writing the words “End of Book One.” July 13th, 11:30pm.

It’s not the first time I’ve ever finished a draft, but it’s the first for a book of this length and it’s truly a completed draft–no boilerplate text for skipped sections.

Once I made it to the penultimate battle, the rest of the book flowed pretty well. You can see I clocked in a few days of high word counts.

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I’d had the ending figured out for quite some time, so it was nice to finally get to that part and find that the major aspects of it didn’t need to change.

Some highlights since the last update:

  • One of my side characters offed a bad guy and I’m pretty proud of this line: “And like a master violinist playing the final note of a concerto, Shell slit his throat.”
  • During the final battle, my main antagonist delivered a “You can do it. I believe in you” line to her comrade but with her clearly angsty edge.
  • On the last page, my main character is just at the very beginning of accepting that she has to face and deal with her trauma or it’ll keep getting in the way of her gaining and regaining better control of her powers. She’ll be doing much more reflective, internal work in book 2.

Book 2 is mostly set in a world with clothing magic, a history of magical girls, and a big train. My gut is telling me it’s gonna be a heist since the characters have to recover an object the MC absolutely needs that went missing after a (mostly) natural event destroyed its hiding place.

But my next WIP will be a contemporary that’s much shorter than this book. Technically, it’ll be my second draft of the story, but I changed the entire setup so it’ll basically be a first draft again. The story takes place at a college during Holy Week and is in many ways an allegory of the gospels, but not quite (and also very queer).

My plan right now is to begin drafting that book, then incorporate some days of editing FDAD Book 1. These books are different enough to where I’m not concerned about getting exhausted or ideas from one bleeding into the other. My goal is to get FDAD Book 1 polished enough to query, which will only happen after this editing round, a beta reader round, and another self-editing round at the very least. In other words, I really don’t plan on starting book 2 unless/until I sell book 1. I’ll probably summarize book 2 in broad terms and do some planning, but no drafting.

That’s it for this update. Next time, I’ll say a little bit more about my new WIP.


UCC General Synod Resolution 8 and the Need for Church to not Mimic the World’s Polarization

What do progressive faith metaphors of a wide open table and a tent for everyone actually mean? If we take that call seriously, who are we compelled to let in and how does that break the “purity” of progressivism we often like to maintain?

Church, Bench, Wood, Sunbeams, Religion, Christianity

As a delegate to this year’s General Synod of the United Church of Christ, I experienced this tension the moment I read Resolution 8 (note that this is the post-committee version. See the red strikes for the original language or the original text here). Immediately, it placed me in a difficult spot between my confidence in UCC values and the need for Church to protect and affirm my personhood. Yet the resolution didn’t sit right with me and here’s why:

  • One of the UCC’s core values is autonomy of the local church. This means that the UCC church in your town is not forced to align with whatever stances the wider church takes at General Synod. For example, if General Synod passes a resolution calling for an end to mass incarceration, individual churches are not then required to pour resources, energy, etc. into that specific cause. Likewise, General Synod may affirm that LGBTQ people are made in the image of God and are not sinners by virtue of our love or gender, but this does not require every single church to be open and affirming.
  • Despite the very real tension and frustration this model creates, I believe it’s best to let churches and organizations within the denomination to adopt certain social justice stances or ideologies naturally rather than being forced with the threat of losing affiliation.
  • This does mean our resolutions lack teeth. But the alternative is a hierarchical model present in other denominations. However, it also means that the UCC makes space for a range of views on a range of issues because the communion table isn’t limited to only those who think the right way about the right things.
  • This is why 1/3 of UCC congregations are open and affirming, and why only 1/3 of UCC congregations are open and affirming.

Rainbow, Different Fabrics, Colourful, Colorful, Splash

I value this setup. So reading Resolution 8, unsettled me. It directly targeted a tiny faction within the church (around 80-100 congregations) and established a precedent that any group presenting itself in the national setting of the UCC couldn’t dissent from General Synod resolutions. That would work great for me in this case with this specific group, but what if a historically underrepresented group in the UCC didn’t affirm LGBTQ personhood and civil rights? Would that group then be banned from having a display in the exhibit hall? And what would that say about the UCC not allowing that group a space to organize interested members? It gets messy quickly.

What concerned me most about this resolution wasn’t the content, but the context. Once I learned how this resolution came about, I couldn’t support it. The authors of the resolution had no dialogue with the Open and Affirming Coalition of the UCC (ONA) when creating it. While it certainly isn’t a requirement to get input from movements within the church that would have interest in the issue a resolution speaks to, it should be a common sense course of action to simply ask. It seems to me, based on what I’ve heard from ONA leaders, conservative church leaders, and the proponents of the resolution, that no dialogue occurred. ONA wasn’t involved and certainly neither was Faithful and Welcoming Churches (FWC).

In the days leading up to General Synod, I was engaged in direct conversation with ONA Coalition leaders who outlined concerns about the negative impact that this resolution could have on the Coalition’s work. Those views and concerns are found here. Note that this statement was published before the committee did its work in changing the language as you see in the resolution I linked above. FWC’s response is here.

Furthermore, the whereas clauses of the resolution missed some context when quoting content from FWC’s website. I learned this from my direct conversations with ONA leaders who have been in dialogue with FWC. Basically, the language about encouraging churches to change their bylaws to not allow calling LGBTQ ministers was given as an emergency solution to prevent an exodus of churches from the denomination back in 2005 when the marriage equality resolution passed. At that time, FWC formed and was trying to convince churches to stay in the UCC. These bylaw changes, along with withholding contributions to Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM, which funds denominational operations), were given as actions that dissenting churches could take. Again, this all goes back to autonomy of the local church. I live in tension with that.

Church, Orthodox, Religion, Architecture, Christianity

As for why that language was still on FWC’s website long after the moment of its relevancy passed, well, the explanation I got is that FWC is a small organization that rarely maintains its website and once this resolution came about, they removed that content. Make of that what you will. Personally, I want to trust the ONA leaders who told me that they believe FWC when they say that language no longer had any relevance and should’ve been removed long ago. Additionally, despite my very existence being a point of disagreement for FWC, I have had experiences with their leadership that have led me to view them as reflective people who do not organize around harm or exclusion of LGBTQ people from the denomination. Rather, they seem more focused on having their little corner and reminding people that not everyone in the UCC must be progressive in order to be part of the church.

They are conservatives who want to be in communion with a progressive denomination. They want conversation and they value it. I simply don’t see this phenomenon in the secular world. The president of FWC shared a story when he spoke to my caucus one morning during General Synod. He said a mother had come up to him worried that her son was gay. She asked him what she should do and his first response was “Your job is to love your son and make sure he knows this doesn’t change your relationship with him.” He then told us that 10-12 years ago, that wouldn’t have been his response, and he attributed his own transformation in thought to his relationship with ONA and the wider UCC.

I can be at peace with the culture he aims to foster among his group, as he encourages the type of response he gave to that woman. He could very well be shifting even more conservative folks away from much more sinister responses. I also believe he strives for authenticity within his own moral and ideological framework, which is more than I can say for the current U.S. president and the legion of “evangelicals” in the Republican party.

At that caucus meeting, I had the opportunity to ask the FWC president how he believed the churches in his group as well as other conservative congregations in the UCC would respond if this resolution were to pass. He expressed concern that the more ideologically rigid conservatives would double down on their views and that some congregations would certainly leave the church, cutting off whatever dialogue and progress was made. That tracks with what I heard from ONA leadership.

Mountain Church, Kaiserstuhl, Church, Architecture

I wonder if the authors of the resolution would have gotten any of this context from FWC’s side or been able to work with ONA’s concerns if they had asked questions of these groups first rather than crafting this resolution so independently–to the point where ONA leadership only found out by coincidence of attending the Michigan Conference that it even existed. I truly wonder why they never sought ONA’s input, even if they ultimately came to disagree. Frankly, I think it’s irresponsible to stir things and go around groups working on a justice matter without talking to them first. All it took from my friend and I was a simple email asking questions because as delegates, we wanted to understand everything we could about this issue. ONA leadership was very responsive to our questions.

There was so much context to this seemingly simple (from a progressive standpoint) resolution that I took every opportunity I had during General Synod to make sure my delegation understood it all, because you get none of this from just reading the text. I wanted every voting person I talked to for more than five minutes to have the same information I had, and at the same time I extended spiritual support to ONA leaders who had been dealing with the stress of this for several months. Just talking about it over and over across the span of a few days became exhausting–I can’t imagine the toll it took on ONA leaders.

So, the committee assigned to Resolution 8 did its work and brought the revised text I linked at the beginning of this post to the voting floor with a recommendation to reject. Debate still happened and I had my one-minute remarks ready to give. Needless to say, my anxiety acted up.

The deliberations were painful. The nature of plenary debate is that you either speak at a microphone marked in support of a resolution or in opposition. This setup made it appear that LGBTQ folks were fighting among ourselves–that those of us who were against the resolution were also, by proxy, not listening to the youth–that “the youth” had a monolithic opinion and experience of FWC. Being under 30, I’m a “youth” by the church’s standards. A couple teenagers also spoke at an opposing microphone. What does the denomination’s tendency to tokenize “the youth” make of that?

The debate carried over into our plenary session the next morning where the first action was a motion to table the resolution and call on the UCC Board of Directors to create a behavioral covenant for the exhibit hall booths, which currently does not exist. I supported this decision and thought it was the best outcome we could’ve had. My anxiety levels sharply declined once it passed, even though I was entirely prepared to speak.

Church, Building, Mood, Black, Simple, Iceland

So, here is my one minute, given with all of this background I’ve written that I couldn’t possibly have expressed at the microphone anyway.

As someone in the LGBTQ community, I agree on paper with every word of this resolution. But I support rejecting it because based on my experience with conservative group leaders in the UCC and leaders of the ONA Coalition, I do not believe this particular group is a threat. I believe their dialogue with progressives in the church has transformed them and us, and will continue to do so as long as they are at the table. It is because of graceful engagement that there are over 1500 ONA churches in the UCC. But I do not see this resolution as graceful engagement. I worry that it tells all groups within the church that they can’t be present in the national setting if they dissent on resolutions. We are called to imbue our progressivism with the grace of Jesus that our wider culture rarely affords. UCC stands for “United Church of Christ,” not “United Church of Cancel Culture.” I will continue to guide everyone I know toward only those church that are fully affirming while keeping my peace with the existence of these conservative churches.

And indeed, LGBTQ people and allies should only go to UCC churches that are officially open and affirming if there is one in your area. And FWC must look at the fruit their ideology bears–pain, suffering, exclusion–and ask if it really reflects the love of God. A theology that can be abused, as FWC has admitted and attempted to distance itself from, should be critically examined. Are such beliefs worth having?

And ONA needs to feel more like a movement with history and elders that are here for this generation and less like a reunion of folks who were pioneers in their time but have lost connection with those coming up after them. I don’t know if the teens who spoke and cried at the microphone now see the Coalition as a group they could join or get support from. That saddens me because the Coalition formed in the 70s and existed through the AIDS crisis and has a lot of history to be passed down. At the same time, it’s a strong movement that young people should be excited to get to know.

And the UCC Board of Directors, who is now charged with creating this behavioral covenant, absolutely must have the dialogues that were not had when this resolution was created. I know at General Synod that they already began listening. I urge them to continue to seek input from every corner of the denomination because not all queer experience is monolithic and not all conservative experience is monolithic. There are pressing questions that need deep discernment:

  • If the UCC gets money from groups paying for table space in the exhibit hall, should it be okay to receive funds from an organization that limits full participation and validity of specific types of people in the life of some congregations?
  • If we’re going to invoke the story of Jesus chasing the money-changers from outside of the temple, should we even have an exhibit hall at all?
  • What does every ONA church need to do to ensure that it means what it says when it comes to being ONA?
  • How would a behavioral covenant limit or change the way groups call attention to their booths?

Lines, Rainbow Colors, Spectrum, Color, Colorful

This is only the beginning and it’s only a summation of my experience. I’m not the only one with a complex, nuanced story around this issue and I also won’t be the person getting all mad about it but then never communicating with the national setting of the church. I urge the UCC Board to receive everything I’ve said here and to continue receiving.

As for the rest of us, we have to actually communicate.


Reclaiming By Erasing: A Guest Post By Lest I Know Your Weakness Author Taylor Ramage


Please welcome author Taylor Ramage to the site today to talk about erasure and her recently released poetry collection, Lest I Know Your Weakness. Before we get into the post, here’s a note from the author on the book’s actual crafting:

I made this poetry collection by taking words, phrases, and letters from the 1872 novella Carmilla and reorganizing them into poems. That’s what erasure or blackout poetry is in a nutshell–transforming the content of an existing text into something new.
Although Carmilla does have undeniable lesbian representation, it was still written in 1872 by a white man and has a tragic ending like we’ve seen on some mainstream TV shows that kill off their wlw characters. But creating erasure poetry from this old text allows Laura and Carmilla’s narrative to be reclaimed and redeemed, even though it’s certainly still angsty. It’s another form of adaptation, much like the…

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