Rising from Ash

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I met my nephew AJ when he was two years old. His mom was dating my younger brother and I was very excited to have a potential nephew in my life. I couldn’t have been more happy when that wish became a reality and they both joined our family.

AJ was seriously adorable. He had more energy than all my family combined. The kid was the sweetest to his mom. This ended up extending to all parts of his life and relationships. AJ was and is full of light and life.

When he was six I picked him up from an after school program to take him to karate. We were getting in the car when I heard a woman saying his name. I looked up and a woman was walking toward us with a little boy in tow, likely the same age as AJ. The little boy was wearing a helmet and had some facial disfiguration. I don’t remember this child’s name so we’ll call him Josh.

I got out of the car, uncertain of this woman’s intentions in calling out for him and approaching him.

She asked “Are you AJ?”
He nodded.
She said, “Josh has been talking about you all the time. He says when kids tease and hurt him that you tell them to stop and you are very kind to him. I want you to know how special you are. Thank you for being so sweet and kind.”

Each word filled my heart.

I asked him on the drive how he felt about what she said to him. He said “I just like Josh.” This little guy sure was amazing. Such a beacon by just being fully himself and choosing love.

AJ’s mom and my brother ended up separating and later divorced. I know divorce. I have experienced it quite a few times in my childhood. I knew how hard it would be. As everyone tried to figure how this next season of our lives would work, we lost regular time with AJ. It became the occasional holiday and outing.

When AJ was 12 we stepped up the relationship to being in his life regularly. I remember being nervous picking him up the first time after having seen very little of him in the few years prior. Quite simply, I wondered if he would still like me.

AJ initiated conversation right away, telling me a story from his life. So easy and light. It felt like we had never lost contact. And I really liked him. A lot. He was funny and thoughtful. He was and is a huge guy, but such a gentleness and openness. He’s unmatched in that area.

As the years continued we spent time as often as we could. Sometimes it was frequent, sometimes a dry spell. Regardless of the amount of time that had gone between our visits, we picked right up where we left off and there was always laughter.

The events of the past year made some conversations in my family and friend group very intense and hard. I had endured a sexual assault that massively leveled me. We had talked to all the adults close to us. I had no idea, though, how to tell AJ. I felt protective of him and did not want to hurt his heart. I did not want to burden him.

As is characteristic of this dude, he sensed something was wrong and asked me direct questions about it. I answered honestly. He took it in. He sat with it and we talked about all the other things going on as there was A LOT going on for him.

AJ was turning 18 and he was readying himself to join the Marine Corp that July 2016. We held space for honest talks and then maneuvered to humor. Good stuff. Honest stuff. Life giving stuff. And what an incredible emotional intelligence he showed throughout all of it.

The time I had with AJ between January and July was precious and sacred to me. As my focus began to turn outward to support AJ, I felt relief from the intensity of my internal world that was reeling and begging for healing. By loving AJ and showing up for him, I was healing. Love is funny that way. Loving action changes a heart and circumstance better than any New Years Resolutions ever could.

As the day approached that he was heading out to Boot Camp for the Marines, I was feeling the reality that AJ would be leaving. It never feels like the right time for those you adore to leave you. I knew releasing him was important and love lived out.

AJ sent me tons of things to prep me about what he was going to endure. He was signing up for such a hard time and yet he was facing forward. He was meeting life and saying yes. Unswerving and resolute. He was prepared and ready for what was next.

The three months he was away were actually the hardest for me since the assault. I didn’t necessarily link this to his leaving, though that worry and pain was fully there, too. The hard time just was what it was. Trauma recovery does not ebb and flow in a way that makes sense. It’s painful and overwhelming. It is also necessary to walk through that pain.

AJ endured an exhausting, all encompassing season and landed on the other side. He was officially declared a Marine on 10/14/2016. I couldn’t wait to see him!

I picked him up the very next day and noticed that nervousness rising again. Is it going to be weird at all? Is he going to still like me? He got in the car and said, “I have so much to tell you!” And he did.

Stories of how AJ had overcome, what felt triumphant, what the funny moments were, what comrades he now had filled our conversation. He held his head differently. He walked with the confidence that comes from living the life you challenged yourself to live. I got that familiar surge of pride that I had when he was six years old, reaching out and being loving.

Some other emotions rose up within me, too. Admiration.
Inspiration.
Awe.

I had been feeling shame about how hard the last three months had been, chastising myself to heal faster. I imagined AJ in the Boot Camp circumstances, pushing through, embracing the season of difficulty as a necessary one, and just meeting life with agreement and willingness. As I saw him this way, I saw myself in a new light. He was still standing and so was I.

The constant overwhelming circumstances hurts. The exhaustion hurts. The self doubt hurts. The loss of all things familiar hurts. And yet the human spirit is remarkably resilient and full of life.

This year has been a season of leveling for me, a burning down of life and a wonder if I will survive that heat and pain.

Am I forever broken?
Am I ever going to enjoy life again?
Will I ever be able to live again?
Will I ever rise again?

My nephew held up a mirror of sorts as he shared his lived experience. I started to believe the reflection of healing, living and thriving that was emanating from him and reflecting back to me. I found room in my heart to believe that it could be mine as well.

My nephew is pretty special in that he lives his life as a determined and steadfast participant, co-creating his world with the best next step being his main focus.

My nephew no longer goes by AJ. He gave that up around age 11.
My nephew’s name is Ashton.
I call him Ash.
He helps me rise.

 

The Shame Agreement

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I have shame.
I have shame that abides.
I have shame that abides and demands.
I have shame that abides and demands and destroys.
I have shame. As do you. As does most of humanity.

I wasn’t born with shame.
I was born with a tender vulnerability that deserved nurture and grace.
I was born with a knowing in my heart that I was worthy of love.
I was born with the audacious spirit to experience need and develop a loving reliance for those who met my need.
As were you.
As was and is often humanity.

Yet I have this shame and it seems to think I put out a classified ad in which it responded and somehow became my silent partner in the affairs of my life. It keeps pointing to some agreement it’s made with me.

We choose an interesting set of words when we wish shame for others: “Shame on you!” Shame ON you. The burden, the weight, the overwhelming nature of shame cloaking us and seeping in. Once it is on us, it is in us. Shame is a rather manipulative behavior modification tool that is often abusive as it causes lasting harm to the mind and spirit of the person being cloaked with it. Shame does the dirty work for some pretty hard feeling states like loathing, self-hatred, and hatred of others. It prepares the heart in such a manner that these other parts get to storm right in, no guard on duty, everything valuable open and exposed. And we are robbed of our precious life yet again.

We really oughta move.

I watched a documentary about September 11th not too long ago. A man was telling his story about surviving the attack. He painted a vivid picture of emerging from death all around and described being covered in dust, his mind dazed, his face a blank slate as he went deeper and deeper within to stand the death outside of himself. He said an officer approached him and said something to the effect of “It’s okay. What you are experiencing is PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” He did not respond out loud, but internally he remembered thinking, “How can it be ‘post’ when it is still happening?”

Besides this exchange being an object lesson into why lay folks shouldn’t attempt to diagnose mental health and feeling states, it is a powerful image that I would like for us to hold for a bit here as we maneuver through. The survivor of 9/11 was cloaked in thick dust and dazed. He did not choose to be cloaked in dust. He did not invite being cloaked in dust, but cloaked in dust is what he was living in, sitting in, wiping off. The dust found any porous part of the body to invade. And invade it did. He had this dust in his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears for a long time to come.

The survivor’s thick cloak of disaster seemed to have been mixed with a hue of shame. “Why did I survive? Why did they die? I had to deserve this in some way. What did I do that made this happen?”

Ever since I started thinking about this essay the song “Fame” has been running through my head, replaced with “Shame”, of course. “Shame! I’m gonna live forever!” Well, that’s the opposite of remotely true in any way, shape or form. My experience with shame is it stifles and burdens, it creeps and takes over. Shame is lonely, deadly, and common.

Shame is devious and tricky. Shame has loads of costumes that keep us from noticing it. Its favorite thing to get dressed up as is morality, while contrition is a close second. It wears these long enough to get in the door and then like a Scooby Doo bad guy, the mask gets removed and low and behold, it’s that shame again! And it would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for your meddling, discerning spirit.

Let’s walk a bit more with the survivor of 9/11 covered in the second skin of dust. You get one side; I’ll get the other. He shouldn’t be alone right now. We can play a game of “What If” as we walk with him away from the rubble and the madness.

What if shame has absolutely nothing to do with God?
What if shame is unnecessary and a futile exercise that doesn’t mean a darn thing about our love for and belief in God?
What if shame was not a requirement of a spirit-filled life and is actually a lousy substitute for things like conviction and morality?
What if the cloaking of shame divides us from each other and takes over with diligence and fear, essentially snuffing out the love and life that is our birthright?

We’ll go ahead and leave the survivor we have been walking with as he is getting passed onto the people who can help him. Spoiler alert: He is going to be well again.

You and me, though, let’s keep walking. Let’s keep talking.

The rubble I find myself sifting through nowadays came from the sexual assault that happened to me not that long ago. It’s heavy to sift through this, especially when each rock I pick up has a phrase written on it: “This was your fault. Shame on you!” Toss that aside. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Toss that aside and yet the rubble seems endless. Shame works against the sifting of the rubble and paves the way for a lot of hopelessness to bound through into my brokenness.

What caused your rubble?

The rubble happens. The cloaking of shame happens. Most of the time, this happens to us and we do not bring it on ourselves, it happens as a part of being a global citizen on this planet. It is largely unfair and it is deeply grievous to have anyone go through the destruction of self that happens with shame at the helm. We don’t get a choice initially. It just is and we can’t deal with it when it is still happening because we are putting everything we have into surviving. We need some distance and stability from what caused the shame so we can truly start the work of healing.

And this is where it can get better for us.

When I feel shame and accept it inside as valid, I am saying yes to the harm within or outside of me that uses the tool of shame to break me in some way. I am creating a Shame Agreement with Harm. It’s as good as sitting at a table with Harm across from me, handing me a contract that says, “You are nothing. You are broken. You are alone. You are worthless. Now if you agree to these conditions, please sign here, here, and here. Initial here.” Once that is done I can hold my breath and survey this own private hell I just became co-owner in. What a horrible investment I made. I need some solid heart space management. Where’s the Suze Orman of the heart when I need her?

If we can opt in, we can also opt out. And my life right now is about that very thing. I want out of this Shame Agreement. It’s a fraud.

I wasn’t born with shame.
I was born with a tender vulnerability that deserved nurture and grace.
I was born with a knowing in my heart that I was worthy of love.
I was born with the audacious spirit to experience need and develop a loving reliance for those who met my need.
As were you.
As was and is often humanity.

I have a helpful (to me) image about creating space for shame in my life. I hope you can take and use it if you need to. Since I was young, I knew how to play darts. I spent a lot of time in bars due to family members working in them so I got a little seasoned at darts. I remember the day the dartboard at the Cow Pony was replaced by one of those digital dart boards with plastic darts that you have to throw hard enough to stick in the tiny holes riddled all over the board. You have that image in your mind? Great. I picture that dart board as my heart space, my feeling state, my tender soul. If shame is the dart and it is thrown at me, it will only stick if there is something for it to penetrate. If I prepare my heart space in such a way that the intrusion of shame doesn’t have space to land, it simply bounces off.

Our cloak of shame can be washed off. Our shame agreement can be voided. Our shame filled heart space can be made whole. As in all things, I turn to love.

I have love.
I have love that abides.
I have love that abides and invites.
I have love that abides and invites and heals.
I have love. As do you. As does most of humanity.

And there just isn’t any shame in that.

Here’s the thing…

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Are you ready for the thing?

The thing is for every living being on this earth, there is risk and there is beauty.

The thing is for every person who harms someone, there are a ridiculous amount of people who do not.

The thing is that we are constantly recovering from something because that is the nature of living. Our bodies, our families, our friendships, our world are adjusting and healing in ways we could not imagine.

The thing is if we turn toward and walk through the dark nights of the soul, we are fostering an internal and external world that is truly healing.

The thing is if you are recovering from trauma the best thing to do comes from Anne Lamott: “Go only as fast as the slowest part of you.”

The thing is, we heal, we love well and fully.

The thing is we step into the stream of life and it gradually, ever so slowly returns us to the present moment and opens us to life in ways we cannot fathom.

The thing is… Life takes a lifetime and we have so much life ahead. The best is yet to come. I know that and honor that in you.

The thing is love.

Musings on Spiritual Health

by Kelly Kahlstrom

“To heal, a person must first be a person”

As some of you know, in my Monday through Friday 8-5 life I am a nurse case manager for one of the state Medicaid programs. I work with women who have high risk pregnancies. These risk factors can be physical, like diabetes or high blood pressure; it can be emotional like anxiety/depression or other mood disorders; or social, like being homeless. Bella* is typical of many of the women with whom I have the privilege to speak. She is a 22-year old who is 3 months pregnant with her second child. Her oldest child, Rocky, is 15 months old. Bella’s pre-pregnancy weight was 215 and she was just diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. Her mother is her primary support both emotionally and financially while she stays home to care for her son. Bella and the father of the baby are not getting along since the news of this second, unplanned pregnancy. She has a history of anxiety but has never sought treatment for this. She has had one year of college and eventually would like to go back to school but her first pregnancy interrupted her studies.  Historically my conversations with her would center on her diabetes and how it affects her pregnancy. I would offer behavioral health support and most of the time the offer would be declined by saying “I can manage it on my own; I just need to stay positive”. And I would leave it at that.

Recently however there has been a push within Medicaid to “integrate” disciplines so we do a better job of addressing more domains of health, noting that physical health, emotional health, spiritual health, and social health are all interrelated. Statistically, patterns have emerged which indicate that symptoms in one domain usually cascade through the other domains in fairly predictable ways. For instance, if one has a food addiction like Belle, it can be predicted that one might also suffer from physical limitations such as obesity and diabetes. Prescription drug use from back or joint pain is likely. Often there is a history of untreated anxiety/depression or other mood disorders and maintaining close relationships with others can be difficult. As you can see, an illness in one domain affects all domains of health. Illness is a spiritual event.

Now if we visualize the domains of health on a horizontal axis, as a snapshot in time, it is also helpful to remember that health throughout a person’s lifetime lies on the vertical axis. There is good reason to believe that two-thirds of us experienced at least one traumatic event in childhood. We now know that the more trauma a child has experienced, the greater the change to the neurobiology of the brain. This affects the body’s ability to process and recover from stress, especially chronic, unpredictable, toxic stress. Chronic exposure to this type of inflammation correlates significantly with auto-immune diseases, mood disorders, as well as substance use in adulthood decades after the initial exposure. So, with Belle, like many of the women I talk to, it is best to assume a history of trauma rather than not. This information radically broadens the conversation. The starting point may indeed be in the physical domain but, as rapport is established, the conversation can move across to other domains or backward to previous experiences and how these experiences might affect present and future health. It is here that I learned she was ridiculed as a child for her weight and she witnessed her older brother die of a heroin overdose. Often interpreted in childhood as a defect in their character, these types of experiences contribute to an ongoing angst in adulthood, pushed from thought by “being positive”, belied by reaching for the 8th cookie on the plate.

Which brings me to my real area of interest…spiritual health, and alas, it is the one domain of health I cannot talk openly about at work so I’ll muse about it here instead. Spiritual health is the point of origin, in my humble opinion, of both the horizontal dimensions of health and the vertical history of “how your biography becomes your biology”.

What exactly is Spiritual Health? Spiritual health is something that we all have a sense of but it is not always easy to articulate. I am drawn to Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s quote “To heal, a person must first be a person”.  Could it perhaps be said then that spiritual malaise looks like a forgetting of what it means to be human?  Without a protracted discussion with the philosophers amongst us, I would argue that one aspect of personhood is the need to make sense of the experiences in our lives. As Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us, “religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live.” When we have forgotten who we are, what we are put on earth to do, and are unable to live up to our identified values, we have experiences but often miss the meaning of these experiences in our lives. Experiences without meaning leave us feeling empty, anxious, apathetic, conflicted, hurried or harried, self-absorbed or feeling we have something to prove. These disembodied feelings can originate from events that have occurred on either axis.

So if spiritual malaise is a forgetting of who we are, either from not recognizing that each domain of health affects the others, or by not understanding how events from childhood shape our adult health, what is the prescription? How do we recover the meaning by which we are able to re-interpret our experiences? “To heal, a person must first be a person” and awaken (again) to their own identity.  I offer these as possibilities but this hardly represents an exhaustive list.

  • A remembrance can happen through engaging in activities of quietude such as meditation, prayer, visualization, stretching, yoga, dream work, labyrinths, and mandalas.
  • A remembrance can happen through a flash of insight while engaged in the profane or mundane tasks of our lives.
  • A remembrance can happen when we take our faith seriously and actively work to deepen our spiritual life.
  • A remembrance can happen through the development of strong social ties to a community that makes room for questions about identity, purpose and ethics.
  • A remembrance can happen through consciously seeking ways to exercise each domain of health every day, i.e., eating well, participating in the spiritual practice of your choice, reaching out to a friend, or volunteering with an organization.  
  • A remembrance can happen when we work with professionals like spiritual directors and counselors who help us recognize and name the patterns of our experience.

Spiritual health opens up space to fully claim our humanity in the moments when we are awake. It allows us to be more fully in relationship with God or the Divine. It allows us to feel grounded in our purpose, to live with a sense of wonder and joy, to befriend death, to be a global citizen, and to practice forgiveness, compassion, and unconditional love. Not too shabby, huh?

I would argue that Bella is not unique to the population I work with. Her story, while uniquely hers, has elements that ring true for many of us. In fact, she is our colleague, our neighbor, our fellow congregants, and committee members. Perhaps even ourselves.

To heal a person must first be a person. Blessings on your journey!

* Names have been changed.

Vulnerability is Sacred

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Vulnerability is sacred.

I first thought this when I had been attending First UCC Tucson for about three years. I was spending a great deal of time, attention, thought, and meditation in developing relationships, including the one that I had once known with God. It was a communion Sunday and I often did not partake in communion. This was due to a resentment that I had against those who created insiders and outsiders at the communion table. The other aspect of my refusal was that I did not know what, if anything, communion meant to me and my path.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The work that I get to do in the community where I live is often heart-wrenching at times and  celebratory at other times. Working in the realm of substance dependence and mental illness, I see people often at their most vulnerable. The stripping away of ego is so hard to watch, especially when it is due to illness. Many of the folks who fill our jails and psychiatric facilities have a large number of adverse childhood events, also known as trauma. As trauma increases, health needs and disparities often increase. As safety increases, health needs and disparities often decrease.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The return to the sense of safety often comes on the heels of talking about that which made it unsafe, most often trauma. The concept, “the only way out is through” is very applicable here. Finding that way through trauma is not for the faint of heart. That being said, I shall now give you a bit of a gross comparison that a coworker of mine uses. He says, “This whole time we have been together, you have been swallowing your saliva without any thought about it. It’s natural to you, it’s normal. If you were given a cup and told to spit in it vs swallow the saliva, that would likely gross you out. If you were then told to drink from that cup (my note: my stomach is turning too, ugh) you would likely refuse.” Here’s why that is: when it is out of you, it changes. We interact with it differently, we see it differently, we address it differently.

Vulnerability is sacred.

The telling of trauma is exhausting, scary, and so incredibly hard. The pain that induced the trauma feels fresh and feels awful, most do not want to talk about things like that. Yet, we must. To some degree, we must. In the telling, we are no longer alone with it. In the telling, we are able to look at what exactly it is that was inside us. In the telling, the event of the trauma can be a single event versus the overshadowing painful, all consuming thing that it had been. It is out of me, it is out of you and we can look at it together.

Vulnerability is sacred.

That communion table. What am I to do with that communion table? Can I just fake it and hope the feelings of acceptance for communion comes? Can I continue to ignore it and just check out while it is being served? I could do that. Or I could work on this a bit more. I chose the latter. The only way out is through, after all. Within the same hour that I opted into contending with communion and determining my beliefs and practices, a thought came to me. Communion is the telling of trauma. As we sit with the understanding of the horror that was done to Jesus in his execution, we are bearing witness. We are bearing witness to injustice. We are bearing witness to something intensely private and very human. We are bearing witness to trauma.

Vulnerability is sacred.

I look very closely for the vulnerability in those around me. I have a strong desire to protect that vulnerability, to ensure they are safe and cared for in whatever way the vulnerability arises. I have a strong connection to vulnerability and I have a strong disdain for abuses of power. The Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes made perfectly clear the expectation that we would look for the vulnerable and honor that vulnerability with love. In so doing, we are reaching beyond what is in front of us or what is our present reality and we are inviting the sacred into our relationships. When I am vulnerable with you and when you are vulnerable with me, I do believe God is there. The whole, when two or three people are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them. The presence of the sacred.

May we tell our stories.

May we look for our shared humanity.

May we be vulnerable. And may the sacred be present.

Your vulnerability is sacred.

 

Living in Sodom

by Tyler Connoley

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how similar my country is to Sodom. However, not for the reasons you might think.

We remember Sodom as the town that hated strangers so much they almost raped and killed two angels who came to visit. They also threatened Lot, Abraham’s nephew and a recent immigrant. In the Biblical narrative, the Sodomites are the ultimate xenophobes, intent on secure borders, threatening monstrous acts against those they should have been welcoming.

(Note: If you think the story of Sodom has to do with gay sex, please go and read Genesis 19. You can also read the book I coauthored with Jeff Miner about homosexuality and the Bible.

What we forget is why the Sodomites might have been so afraid of strangers. For that story, you have to go back to Genesis 14. In that story, we’re told the kings of Sodom were convinced to join a coalition of the willing, including neighbor Gomorrah and three other cities, in an attack on the cities of the north. However, the battle was actually a wild goose chase (or maybe a trap?). When the kings were away, the northern armies swept into Sodom and Gomorrah, ransacked the cities, raped women and children and men, and carried everyone off as slaves. Since this is our sacred Scripture, we mostly remember this as the time our hero Abraham saved the day by rescuing his nephew Lot — along with all the other Sodomites who were captured — and all ended well.

The happy ending, hides the trauma that preceded it. All of the people of Sodom found themselves carried off and brutalized. Who knows how many died? Who knows what they suffered? Who knows how they continued to carry the trauma of that event for years after?

Genesis 14 is the story of Sodom’s 9/11.

Now, we understand why the people of Sodom would act the way they did in Genesis 19, when two strangers came to their city and ended up staying at the house of that newcomer Lot. When we read the story, we see two angels and our hero Abraham’s nephew. The people of Sodom saw a possible spy ring or a potential terrorist cell. Knowing that, we can see how they thought they were justified in the way they treated these threatening strangers.

This is why I compare the United States to Sodom. Living in this country, I’m well-acquainted with an atmosphere of fear and trauma that leads people to condone terrible acts. The story of Sodom is a warning to us when we slam our doors to refugees, or condone extra-judicial drone strikes, or cheer on war, or yawn at the thought of Guantanamo Bay, or accept any manner of evil because we’re afraid of another 9/11 and think our government needs to keep us safe.

The Sodomites were not monsters. They were people like you and me. I’m sure they had lovely houses, and above-average children, but that’s not what we remember them for. We remember that they let their fear and trauma get the best of them, and they did monstrous things as a result. Let’s learn from their lesson, and not be Sodomites.

 

If You Build It, They May Not Come

by Davin “Dax” Franklin-Hicks

Field of Dreams came out when I was 11 years old. I saw it on video when I was 13 and immediately used the line “If you build it, they will come” for comedy effect with my friends. It was a catchphrase and said at the right moment, it always got a good laugh. Because of the incessant use, it became hard wired in my brain. Sometimes I hear folks talking about a project or an effort they are involved in and that line runs through the back of my mind.

My access to places of worship and faith development post coming out as LGBT was very limited. I had been to a few congregations that expressed a welcome to LGBTQ folks. These churches, though, were largely made up of members who identify as LGBT and very few allies. This was disheartening to me. I wanted to be able to pick a faith community that I could grow spiritually in and not just choose one because they embrace my community. This is further proof to me that the most segregated hour in America is still on Sundays. And I had no desire to participate in that. Then I heard about the UCC and everything changed.

I became introduced to the UCC through the Pastor who served at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Tucson, AZ. She was an out, partnered lesbian, yet her ministry consisted of people from all walks of life; likely people that would never have sought each other out in the world outside the church. Members affirmed and celebrated each other. They advocated openly and unabashedly to ensure those who did not have access to rights would gain access to rights. They just were all so kind and open. It appeared to be church in action. So, I was suspicious. What’s the catch? Why are you guys being so nice to us? And the answer that came consistently was that we were part of them and they were a part of us.

The reason all these things happened is they made an intentional decision to become Open and Affirming, welcoming LGBTQ into the full life and ministry of the church. And I dug it. I shook off the suspicion and embraced the openness. It was delightful and rich. And still, many LGBTQ people would never come through those doors, simply because it’s far too painful. A friend of mine told me the story about her congregation’s decision to become Open and Affirming. They thought it was simply the right thing to do. And it created an expectation for some that the LGBTQ community would pour in. One person said, “I don’t get it. We say we are Open and Affirming. Why aren’t they coming?”

There are a whole host of reasons LGBT folks do not participate in organized religion. Some have experienced churches to express a welcome, only to be condemned when they do attend. The trauma of losing their faith community due to being LGBT is often triggered by churches. In short, many don’t trust us. And that makes perfect sense.

Addressing the trauma that results from faith based rejection is the role of the church. Healing, ministering, listening, affirming. It takes intention and it takes openness to achieve. The church is inviting those who have been wounded from ministers and church members to come to our churches. It is our responsibility to prepare a place for them that will truly heal.

If you build it, they may not come, but we, as the church, must build it still.

Davin “Dax” Franklin-Hicks is a proud member of the United Church of Christ. He was introduced to the UCC in 2003. His primary focus is in supporting those that have experienced trauma within spiritually based communities and/or rejection from family members due to being determined as unacceptable to God for various reasons. Dax had his own church-related trauma experiences after coming out as Queer, and later, as Transgender that included a disfellowship process from a rejecting congregation. What a breath of fresh air the UCC was after that experience.

In 2008, Dax transitioned from female to male, experiencing an incredible affirmation from his UCC congregation at the time, the former First Congregational United Church of Christ in Tucson. The grace and love he received during this coming out and transition process was a very healing experience.

Dax works in the field of recovery in Tucson, is a member of Rincon Congregational United Church of Christ, and currently serves on the Executive Board of the Southwest Conference. He has an amazing wife, Nancy, who is a member of Rincon and a Social Worker in hospice. They have a rockin’ awesome son, named Angelo, who is in his twenties and works in the helping field. He has a cat who shares his point of view nearly constantly, and a pit bull he kisses daily.