Post Author: Slats Toole
You can find a sample of Slat’s Lenten poetry collection Queering Lent and purchase your own copy on Amazon.
When I began to write about God, I was 20 years old, reeling from the end of a four-and-a-half-year relationship, and still struggling to piece together my faith two years after returning to Christianity after a long period of agnosticism. There was very little that made sense to me that summer as I ached for the future I’d lost and searched for glimpses of the God I had once cut all ties with. It was out of the longing and the hurt and the confusion that I found words.
As I worked to intentionally reconnect with God, as I faced the reality of no longer being part of a pair, I strung together poems that were (I didn’t realize then) defining my lived theology. I discovered a God who was infinite and terrifying, playful and beautiful, and I worshipped this God in my words.
I kept these poems hidden. I’d compiled them into a document that I’ve only ever sent to those I felt a particularly close relationship with. I can count on my hands the number of people who have seen them in the decade or so since. There was something so intimate about the idea of letting people see this part of me, so I knew these poems had to be guarded and protected.
Eight years later, I graduated from seminary. While I am grateful for many things I learned and people I met while at seminary, there was a lot about the experience that was draining. My seminary had no real queer theological presence on campus—I’d slipped out of the closet as non-binary towards the end of my first year there, and I spent the rest of my time educating administration and pushing for gender-neutral restrooms and housing.
Another part of myself that I felt slipping away was the part of me that became curious about seminary in the first place—the poetic part of me that wanted to get to know all it could about the mysterious, glorious, confusing and incredible God I had met one summer in the mountains years before. Instead, I found myself picking up the beliefs that so often come with seminary and have nothing to do with God. The belief that my value came from exam scores. The need to have a ministry-related job that could be easily understood in a few words upon graduation. The sickening feeling that I had to compete, win, and be the best.
So, as I looked towards my Lenten discipline for the year after I graduated seminary, I knew I had to reconnect with the parts of myself that I’d neglected while in school. I needed to nurture both my queerness and the part of my faith that could not be expressed in a clean exegesis paper. The discipline I landed on was simple: write one poem, connected in some way to God, every day. The twist for me was my accountability check: I would post the poems on Facebook.
The decision to post the poems was almost impulsive. It was certainly the exact opposite of what I’d done before, protecting my work from ever seeing the light of day. I think it partially came as a reaction from feeling my seminary ignore or brush away my queerness. Posting the poems was a way of proclaiming that queerness as sacred. Making the poems available to a small, friendly audience was also a step toward a healthy vulnerability in sharing my faith. Slowly, I became more comfortable with this openness—until people started suggesting that I publish them after the season was over.
Yes, there were several I was particularly proud of. Yes, it was delightful to be able to share the queer discoveries I was making now that I was looking at the Bible again without a particular upcoming assignment in mind. But the thought of publishing these poems caused an immediate feeling of dread, and not just from the idea of how arduous it would be for an unpublished author to try to entice publishers to publish a book of queer Lenten poetry.
My own fear of public vulnerability was compounded by the pressures I’d picked up from seminary. I should be publishing, yes, but this wasn’t the right and proper thing for me to be publishing. I should be working on an accessible book of nonbinary theology, or something, not an exploratory collection of almost mystical poetry. This was not the way I was “supposed” to be doing things. I finally caved in and made it available through self-publishing (because no matter what, I knew I didn’t have the energy for the process of trying to find a publisher!).
The beauty of what God has been doing this whole time became apparent as the book started to find its readers. From a joint book study between a campus ministry and a queer student group, to Transgender Day of Remembrance services, to gifts from a pastor to conflicted young adults and confused parents, Queering Lent has found its way into spaces that the kinds of books I thought I should write would probably not fit.
I’ve been deeply moved by the conversations I’ve had since its publication, about how my words that have come out of both hurt and grace have become companions for the journeys of others. And while it is strange to meet someone for the first time who has read the book (and feel they now know perhaps too much about my emotional landscape!), it has been humbling to see how God takes the parts of myself that I feel are too fragile to be shared, pries them from my clenched fists, releases them to the world, and in doing so, strengthens them.
When I was 20 years old, I discovered a God who was constantly sneaking up on me and surprising me, who resisted all of my attempts to define or pin down. I should have known then that that God would chuckle at these ideas of what I “should” or “should not” write, saying, “Oh my love, for once, just trust!”
Slats Toole (they/them/theirs) is a writer, musician, preacher and activist. Their poetry has been published in Call to Worship, Sacramental Life, Presbyterian Outlook, and in the collection Queering Lent.
They are an ambassador for the Hymn Society, a member of the NEXT Church Advisory Team, and frequent presenter on queer/trans issues in the church. They are the resident sound designer for The In[heir]itance Project and are developing a new book, Who Do You Say That I Am? in Undiscovered Countries’ Blast Off! development lab. They hold a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama and a Master of Divinity.
Image by: Slats Toole
Used with permission