Archives for May 2011

Lectionary Thoughts: 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

1 peter 4.12-14

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

1 peter 5.6-11

6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Firstly, it annoys me that the lectionary chops up passages and pieces them together in a new fashion. I grew up in a tradition which didn’t use the lectionary (but which had its own bad habits of cherry picking verses) and so I am not steeped in the history of it all. Can someone tell me why the lectionary cuts up passages like this?

Okay, now on to the text. This was another passage that was spiritualized in my church. It was taught that if we stood up for what we believed in, that the world would hate us. And sometimes that is true, but I think there is a difference between being persecuted for what you believe in and being persecuted for being a jerk.

There seems to be a movement of folks that are claiming persecution; but these same folks have held power in politics, in religious matters, in financial matters, etc. etc. etc. Now they are starting to lose some of their power. The oppressed are refusing to be oppressed and the oppressors are now claiming to be the new victims. They claim that they are being persecuted for standing up for what they believe in when in reality they are using their religion and their power to mask their hate and their control. That’s not what this passage is about.

This is a passage written during the time of Empire (much like our own in some ways). The community to which this letter was written was marginalized. They had given up their positions in society in order to follow Jesus. There way of life was perceived as a threat to the “good order” of the empire. They were being persecuted.

These days people are trying to make their religion law; to shove their ideas on to other people; to keep a hold of control and when they are called on it they claim to be persecuted.

Those are two very different ways of looking at the world. One wants to hold on to power and control, the other renounces power in order to serve. One helps the Empire to become more powerful and uses religious language to shore up the power of the state, the other speaks out against the injustice of the state at every turn and works to set up new structures in the shadow of the Empire. One is cozy and comfortable with government leaders, the other is feared by the government and spied on.

I think of the second portion of this passage and the admonition to stay alert because the devil is seeking whom to devour. What if the devil isn’t some malicious force outside of us, but is instead inside of us? It’s that voice that tells me it’s better to be safe than to speak out. It’s the part of me that says I should be the one holding the power and that I should do whatever I can to keep the power I have. It’s the temptation to buy into the ideas that this current way of doing things is the only way to do things and that in order to be safe and secure I need to toe the line and behave.

How long has it been since my faith was a threat to the Empire?

*as a side note, I read this article in the NY Times and felt it feeds into some of my thoughts on this lectionary text.

Podcast: From Fundamentalist to Anarchist

Today’s podcast is a recording of a talk I gave at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. In this talk I share my spiritual journey and how I moved from being a fundamentalist to an anarchist.

You can listen to the podcast here or on iTunes.
from fundamentalist to anarchist

For more information about the things mentioned in today’s podcast:

* Camp Osiris
* If you are interested in watching the rap that I show to the folks in attendance, you can do so here.

Thoughts On Marriage

The other night a friend messaged me and asked if I would go with her to our state capitol to ask the house to not pass an amendment that would place a measure on the ballot asking whether the constitution should be amended to prevent not gay marriage (which is already illegal). I went home, put on my clergy collar and we went. We spent hours and hours listening to tearful Democratic leaders (and one very brave Republican) ask for the bill not to be passed. The vote was taken shortly after midnight and it passed. The measure will be on the ballot come 2012.

I have several thoughts about this issue and I wanted to share them here.

First, I want to say that I believe wholeheartedly that all people should be able to be in whatever relationships they want so long as all parties are consenting and no one is getting hurt. My reservations also are not because same gender marriage isn’t a trans* issue because obviously it is. With that out of the way, here we go:

* My first reservation is this: I am frustrated at the way that same gender marriage has become THE issue in the GLB movement. It’s definitely an important issue, but it’s not the only issue. The reality is, that in order for you to be really concerned about whether or not you can get married, you have to have some measure of comfort/privilege already. If you don’t have a job, can’t get health care, are without a place to live, are being bashed, etc. then getting married isn’t number one on your priority list. I once got almost shouted down when I brought this up in a meeting. I said that it wasn’t the only issue and a white, gay man got incredibly angry. He wanted to be on his partner’s health insurance. But here’s the thing; being married won’t help you if you can still be fired from your job. It won’t help you to get a job as a queer person.

* A friend pointed out that what same gender marriage does is value one type of relationship over another and he’s right. Being able to get married does nothing to help single parents, family groups that include more than two adults (whether they be polyamorous relationships, family groups that include grandparents, communal living, etc.). In a world in which families come in increasing shapes and sizes, this privileging of one type of family grouping is troublesome.

* I don’t want the government involved in my personal life. I don’t want people to tell me who I can and cannot be in relationship with. Period.

* It was concerning to me to listen to these speeches. Every. Single. Person. referenced the Bible or God. Both for and against. I do not want anyone’s religion to be involved in making laws (even if I agree with them). There should be no talk of God on the house floor. And by the way, if you can’t make the case against same gender marriage without referencing your religion, then you have a serious problem.

* The amount of money spent on this issue is mind numbing. Millions of dollars will be poured into my state in the next eighteen months. This is a state that is considering cutting programs that benefit the most at risk because there isn’t enough money. And yet groups on both sides will pour enough money into campaigning that would cover some (if not all) of these programs. I would much rather our money as queer people go to supporting people who are the most at risk.

* I’ve been considering what the anarchist approach should be to this situation. I talk a lot about setting up new structures in the shadow of the empire and the reality is, that in this case, same gender families have already done that! We’ve been living and loving for years. Churches marry people of the same gender, they baptize their kids, etc. So there isn’t necessarily a response that can be made by queer families. What could happen (and in some cases is happening) is that churches are refusing to sign marriage licenses. I wish they would all do that in general. I think if you want you relationship recognized by the state you should go to the courthouse. If you want a religious ceremony you should go to the church. Those two things SHOULD NOT be intertwined ever. So I wish churches would get out of the legal business of marrying people anyway. But since they probably won’t, the churches who are refusing to sign any marriage licenses until people of the same gender can get married is a good step.

* When I talk about trying to dream a new future, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. At this point all we can see is the fight for same gender marriage. All we can see are two parent households, recognized by the state and given tax breaks and health insurance. But why can’t we dream bigger? Let’s work for a country (and world) in which everyone has adequate medical insurance and health care so that no one has to be in a relationship in order to be covered. Let’s envision a world where people pay a fair amount of taxes based on income and where some people aren’t privileged over others (and where corporations can’t get out of paying taxes all together). Let’s work for a world in which the church and the state are not entwined. Let’s dream of a world in which families are recognized and protected in all of their forms. Let’s work for a world that isn’t so squeamish about sexuality and relationships that it feels the need to criminalize acts.

If we can’t dream of these things, then they will never happen. We need to dream bigger than same gender marriage.

Book Review: Days of War, Nights of Love

Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethink For Beginners by the Crimethinc Workers Collective is an interesting book. Here’s what I wrote about it when I first read it:

“This book took me a little while to get into, but once I did I really enjoyed it. Part anarchist primer, part field manual it works at exposing the corruption of the world we live in while also pointing the way to a new reality. I would have appreciated some more real world ideas as I always want to know how this stuff actually plays out. But overall I would recommend this book to people who are thinking about anarchism, about living differently, about wanting to be a part of the revolution.”

I still agree with this assessment of the book. It’s interestingly written which is nice, reads pretty easy, and is definitely not a heady academic text. I also really appreciated the inclusion of queer people into the book. They weren’t included as an issue or as a problem, just as a part of the fabric of human life. It was refreshing.

I am someone who needs practical implications. In my ethics classes in seminary I was constantly asking, “yes, but how does this play out?” Theory, while important, only does so much and if we can’t translate our theory into action then what good is it? That is where I thought this book needed some help. There were all of these heady ideas about breaking down structures and charting our own courses and braving new worlds but there was no actual practical advice about how to do that. In one sense I get it; as soon as you offer advice there will be those who think it can only be done that one way, or that if that one way doesn’t work that it’s not worth doing at all. It is helpful to ask the big questions and to dream the big dreams, but one also has to deal with the reality that people face.

I can’t just pick up and leave because I have school loans and debt. So what does your wild new world say to people like me? Or maybe you are married and have children and can’t hit the open road. Maybe you need to care for an elderly relative. There are all sorts of things that people might be facing that don’t allow them to dumpster dive or live town to town. What are the ways in which we can dream new worlds for those folks?

One question I want to always be asking about living in an anarchist way is how do we make this work? Right here, right now, how do we live? I want to be a dreamer of dreams, but also live into the new reality.

lectionary thoughts: 1 Peter 3:13-22

1 peter 3.13-22

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Growing up this passage was taught as an exhortation to witnessing to people. We were to always be ready to tell people about our faith in Jesus. And if they didn’t like us because of it, well, Jesus suffered too and so that should be okay with us. There is also a dangerous message that gets passed around because of this passage. A message that says that God sometimes wills people to suffer. This is the message that gets said to people who are victims of domestic violence that tells them to stay with their abuser because maybe God is willing it. I want to state an unequivocal HELL NO to that. This passage isn’t about some internal spiritualized stuff. This passage is about corporate hope, about resistance to empire, about standing up for what is right.

I read this passage in an entirely new light these days. In a world that is so full of violence, oppression, brutality, etc. what does it mean to live with hope? What does it mean to live without fear? In a world where frequently the people who do good are murdered (Oscar Romero, Jean Donovan, Harvey Milk, the list goes on) what does it mean to have hope?

I believe that God has called me to live differently. To live with hope and with gentleness. To live a life that resists the empire at every turn. When I am called upon to answer why I live the way that I do, I want to be prepared to give an answer with gentleness and love. I also love this idea that IF we live a hope filled life, people WILL ask us about it because it’s so out of the ordinary.

It’s easy to give in to despair. Last night in my state an amendment was passed that allows a ballot measure to be put on the ballot next November about whether or not the state constitution should be amended to ban gay marriage (which is already illegal in the state). I sat in the house gallery for four hours listening to people make speeches and begging their colleagues to vote “no”. As midnight rolled around the vote was taken and it passed. In the next 18 months millions of dollars will be flooded into our state. We’ll have to listen to divisive campaign speeches and hear hateful things. And it’s easy to feel that there is no hope. Not just about gay marriage, but about the state of the world. It seems like there isn’t much gentleness in people. There isn’t much compassion. There aren’t too many people living (not just talking about, but truly living) with hope.

And at the same time, as I was preparing to walk into the capitol I received an email from my mom who simply wanted to tell me how much she loved me. If you had asked me three years ago if I would be getting an email like that I would have said no way. Progress happens.

I have a lot more thoughts about this marriage amendment, about my views about gay marriage, about my role in politics as an anarchist. I’m planning a much longer post about those things for later this week.

But for now I want to concentrate on this idea of living with hope. Not a cheap hope, but a hope borne out of hard work. A hope that sweats and bruises and bleeds. A hope that is willing to suffer rather than compromise. A hope that is filled with love for all people, the oppressed and the oppressor alike. I don’t have any easy answers about what the future looks like, but I know that if we can love one another, bear one another’s burdens, serve one another, care about the least of these, then we can start to build this new world that we want to inhabit.

* Are you preaching on this passage next Sunday? What questions are coming up for you?

Podcast: Allyson Robinson

My guest today is Allyson Robinson. Allyson works for the HRC as the Associate Director of Diversity. We talk about her time in the US military, her spiritual background, and what led her to becoming an activist.

You can listen to the podcast here, or on iTunes. allysonrobinson

For more information:

Allyson on Facebook
Allyson on twitter
HRC’s Transgender Issues landing page
Transgender news at HRC’s blog, HRC Backstory
HRC’s new Back to Work Program, empowering transgender job seekers who have experienced discrimination

thinking out loud

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a lot of things; my future, how my faith should shape that future, my role in the church, etc. etc. etc. It can get kind of exhausting, but I know that it’s important to be thinking about these things and trying to figure things out.

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to share my faith journey with a group of people. It’s the first time I have really tried to explain in a larger way my journey from my fundamentalist roots to my anarchist aspirations. In some ways it’s easy to trace my theological journey (even as it’s filled with twists and turns). What I’ve been having trouble with, though, is explaining how my trans* identity and my anarchist thought fit together.

My transition had nothing to do with my politics. I didn’t transition out of any need to smash the gender binary or to be a radical gender transgressor (which are both valid decisions, they just weren’t true for me). For me, in a lot of ways, transition was a personal and selfish decision (in the best of ways). I needed to transition because it was something I had to do. I could no longer live as I was. However, I realize that simply by following that call to be who I was I did undertake something political, but there is still a bit of a disconnect in my mind about how my transition interplays with my anarchist ideals. This is probably partially because I have the privilege of being perceived as male (and I recognize it as a privilege) and all of the privilege that comes with that. These days people don’t question my gender when they meet me. I don’t have to be as worried about using the correct restroom. This allows me to move through the world choosing whether or not to be political which is a privilege.

I chose to come out as trans* in this talk I did recently knowing that it might cause people to change their opinions of me, knowing that once I was out I would lose control of how people perceive me and lose control over how my story got shared around, knowing that some people might misgender me. It was an emotional thing for me to do, but I felt that it was the right decision (and I am thankful that in this case I was able to make a decision about it). Knowing my trans* history helps people to understand my shift from fundamentalist to anarchist; it explains my shift in theology and in some ways informs my politics.

But what does an anarchist political thought have to do with being a transgender person? I am just now beginning to be able to answer that question. For me, anarchy is about the common good. It’s about eradicating all forms of control and oppression in order to live in community with one another. When I think about an ideal world for trans* people it would be a world in which all forms of gender variance were welcomed and celebrated. People who are binary identified (both trans and cis) could live peacefully alongside of people who are genderqueer, gender fluid, and all other permutations of gender. It would mean that people who wanted to transition could have access to safe and affordable medical interventions, and that those who decided against medical transition could get documentation that reflected whatever gender identity works for them. Too often, even within the trans* community, there are fights about the “right” way to be trans*. People who choose not to be out are demonized, or people who choose not to medically transition are demonized. What if we could all follow our hearts and do what was right for our own identities and bodies?

I have grown fond of saying that my theology keeps me queer. What I mean by that is that my belief in what the community of God should look like (at its very, very best) means that I have to take the road that isn’t always comfortable. I believe that I am called to queerness in the sense of challenging the status quo. I am called to queer the ideas of what it means to be a christian in America. What it means to be a queer person in the church, what it means to be a minister. My theology is concerned with the least of these; of enabling people to live into their own fullness.

I want a missional church that allows queer people to be a full part of the life of the church without asking them to hide any part of who they are. I want progressive christian organizations who won’t play politics with the very real lives of queer people. I want anarchists who are accepting of queer and trans* people. I want queer communities that make space for people of faith. I want us all to learn to live together with love and humility.

These are the thoughts I have been musing over. Full of more questions than answers. Struggling with my own identity as a person by myself and as a person in community with others.

Book Review: “Jesus Freak” by Sara Miles

Right around Easter I was feeling the need to read something that would nourish me spiritually. I wanted something that was less academic but that wouldn’t make the academic side of me scream. I had read Sara Miles’ first book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion while I was in seminary. I devoured it. It was just what I had needed at that time.

So while looking for something to read I picked up Sara’s next book Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was worried that it wouldn’t work with my theology and that I would be turned off by it, but instead, again, it was just what I needed.

Miles’ takes the three aspects of Jesus’ ministry; feeding, healing, and raising the dead and weaves them into modern life with meditations/stories about her ministry in San Francisco. What I love about her work is that she breathes life into the ideas of what it means to do all of these things. She has a background in restaurant work and so food is incredibly important to her. Her stories about cooking for people and leading the food pantry are lovely.

She doesn’t shy away from the hard work of ministry, though; the times when she feels angry, judgmental, impatient, and I appreciate that as well. There is no sugar coating here, but there is a realization and a deeply held belief that God will show up in the midst of the messiness. There is also the understanding that we can do the work of God in the world even as we are impatient and selfish and angry.

I appreciated her words on what it meant to heal people; to understand the difference between being healed and being cured. That one can still be physically sick even as one is healed. This is something I don’t hear talked about very much and it was refreshing to read it here. I also love that she takes seriously all of these ideas; that instead of making them theological she makes them practical. We need to be feeding people real food. We need to be healing people. We need to be raising people back to life. It looks different in each situation but it’s what we are called to do.

This is a beautiful book. One that resonated with me and whose stories continue to rattle around in my head.

Lectionary Thoughts: 1 Peter 2:2-10

The following is a sermon I wrote for a chapel at my seminary. It’s definitely specific to that place, but I think there are thoughts within that can resonate to people elsewhere.

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

We hear a lot about this seminary as a community. Both about the ways in which we succeed as a community and the ways in which we fail. I think there are a lot of us who came to this place because of its promise of community. Its tradition of being a haven for heretics, its tradition of being different.

I know that I came here expecting a utopia of sorts. A place where I would be welcomed and heard. A place where I could bring all of myself, and all of myself would be okay. But this place hasn’t quite been that way. Sure I am accepted, but I don’t quite feel celebrated in the ways that I thought I would. As one of only a few transgender people on campus I sometimes feel like people don’t quite know what to make of me. I have been supported, but not fully. I still question where I fit and which bathroom I should use.

I have poured my heart out in classes and in papers only to turn around and have classmates and professors continually use the wrong pronouns for me. I have heard transphobic speech in classes. There have been moments when I have felt downright rejected here.

And I think if this seminary, this liberal, supposedly inclusive place, rejects me, then what is the world going to do to me?

I have a feeling that I’m not the only person on this campus who has felt rejection. I could list all of the ways in which we may have felt rejection, but I think there are too many. We all hold some moment of rejection in our hearts.

This passage in 1 Peter that we’re talking about today calls people living stones. This metaphor for building and community where each person plays a part. Each person is a brick in the building. All are needed in order to build something beautiful. But not just that; in this passage it’s the stone that is rejected that becomes the cornerstone on which all else is built.

What does this mean? What does it mean to build a foundation on the people who have been rejected? What kind of a community comes out of that?

How do we shape our rejection into something that can be built with?

I know for me, when I experience rejection, I want to reject back. Push the people who have rejected me away. Protect myself. But if I do these things, then nothing can be built. If I walk away, the building falls. If the cornerstone isn’t strong enough to withstand the rejection, the community crumbles.

So we’ve gotta face the rejection head on, continue to engage. Continue to be brave enough to put ourselves out there to face rejection again. And as I say this I realize that it seems like I’m making it too easy. And I am. But I don’t know what else to say. It seems stupid to say that you have to keep putting yourself out there even if you get knocked down. I know that. It seems like you are somehow abusing yourself. And in the midst of the rejection sometimes it is necessary to withdraw, to make sure that you’re getting taken care of.

But you can’t withdraw forever. There is an element of risk in building something beautiful. There is a weight that will sit on your back as you educate other people about your life, as you become the foundation for community.

And if we all bear a bit of that weight and that burden, then maybe the load will become lesser for others. I hope that my experiences here will make it easier for other trans people to walk these halls in the future. And I realize that this sounds trite and cheap and doesn’t really hold the deep pain of rejection. But know that I hold that pain in my heart. And still I stand convinced that on my back, and on the backs of others rejected, this community is being built. Or at the very least transformed slowly into something beautiful.

We are living stones; and the stones that the world rejects will become the cornerstones. We are living stones. Our rejection makes this place tremble, but ultimately it will make this place stand.

Podcast: Joy Ladin

Today’s podcast features an interview with Joy Ladin. She is a professor and an extraordinary poet. Joy talks about her transition, working at an orthodox Jewish university and shares some of her poetry.

You can listen to the podcast here or download it on iTunes.

For more information about Joy, and to read her books/poetry see the following:

Joy’s Books

A review of Joy’s book “Transmigrations”.

Two poems on the Lambda Literary site.

A review by Amos Lassen of “Coming to Life”

Book review from “The Bilerico Project”