Countdown to the Justice Calls Book Release – Day 12

In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Nancy Steeves, Minister at Southminster-Steinhauer United Church in Edmonton, Alberta.

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Churches announcing that “all are welcome” are a dime a dozen. . . The sign on the church where I was ordained said, “All Are Welcome.” The sign on the church I was appointed to serve said, “All Are Welcome.” The sign on the church where my presbytery conducted a hearing into my fitness for ministry, not because of my ethics, values, or beliefs but because of who and how I loved, also had a sign outside that said, “All Are Welcome.” Like so many other gay and lesbian clergy and parishioners, I came to know those words to mean that I am welcome . . . to live a lie.

I am welcome . . . to hide a piece of my identity.
I am welcome . . . to the club of “don’t ask and don’t tell.”
I am welcome . . . to watch other couples get married.
I am welcome . . . to pretend I have a roommate.

And I am welcome to get out of Dodge if I speak my truth—or the masquerade comes to an end—or the wrong person discovers the truth of my life.

Every church likes to say, “All Are Welcome,” but many of us have had good reason to discover these words actually mean “Some Are Welcome”:
Some are welcome to get married here . . .
Some are welcome to be our leaders . . .
Some are welcome to teach our children . . .
Some are welcome to lead our youth . . .

Because belonging has its boundaries. . .

But I want to tell you that for some, sexuality is a matter of exile or embrace, of belonging or longing to belong, of rejection or affirmation, of finding home or remaining homeless, of being known or remaining anonymous, of experiencing faith in isolation or in community. Those of us who are of a minority sexual orientation or gender identity bear many scars, and we need more than your welcome. We need affirmation: places and spaces that affirm our dignity, our value, our worth, that are safe for us not just to be but to belong; we need community with those who are not afraid to advocate for us and with us.

We have lots of welcoming churches; we even have a fair number of open-minded churches. But where are the brokenhearted churches? Isn’t that the kind of community Jesus spoke of in Nazareth: the community of the brokenhearted for the brokenhearted? It’s the kind of community where compassion has a complete anatomy: heart and mind, hands and feet, eyes and ears. To be that kind of community is to be a community of faith where we have not just an open door and an open mind but an open heart, a heart willing to let itself be broken by hearing hard stories, by receiving those who have been most fractured and broken by life. It means moving out of our own particular margins and our own particular oppressions to open our hearts to those whose hurts are very different than our own. It means living with our hearts wide open, broken open as bread is broken to be shared. It means making a safe home for all who are weary of their anonymous journeys. It means building a community where it is safe to know and to be known—where all really means all—where all are truly welcome to be and to belong.


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Countdown to the Justice Calls Book Release – Day 11

In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Meredith Guest, author of Son, I Like Your Dress, a memoir about her transition from male to female gender identity.

Meredith Guest

Instead of transformation, what we often opt for is self-improvement, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The people who know me well—those who work with me and especially those who live with me—would no doubt welcome some self-improvement on my part and could, I’m sure, suggest several places where I might want to begin. But don’t you see? Self-improvement was what I was trying to do in eliminating my masculinity and turning myself into the most believable version of a woman I could. And to that end I shed more than a few units of blood, sweat, and tears—not to mention tens of thousands of dollars. But remember the Bible verse for the day, the passage from Romans in which Paul exhorts us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds”? God didn’t want to improve me. To God, I didn’t need improving; I just needed to be transformed into my true self, and that would include all of me. Nothing would need to be left behind, eliminated, or burned on the altar of societal acceptance . . .

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Countdown to the Justice Calls Book Release – Day 10

In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Tai Amri Spann-Wilson, winner of the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award for his poetry on race, class, gender and sexuality. In addition to his work as a writer and community organizer, he currently serves as the Director of Youth Ministries at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Manhattan, Kansas.

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This sermon draws on Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son,” as well as the exhaustion felt by the disciples in Matthew 26:41 (“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak . . .”).

{Trigger Warning: While this is just a small excerpt, it should still be noted that the content of this sermon is heavy, and at times heart-wrenching and heartbreaking. It was preached at First Christian Church of Oakland on May 6, 2012, just a week after the murder of Brandy Martell, a transgender woman gunned down in Oakland, California. Brandy had declined advances made by flirtatious men, telling them she was transgender.}

Sometimes I just want to sit down on those splintered steps described by Hughes, which seem to be the steps I encounter the most. Sometimes I just want to give in and give up; “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” . . .

I’m reminded of how difficult this calling is when the children I work with tell me that they’re scared to walk through their front doors because of the gangs that haunt their front steps.

I’m reminded of how difficult this calling is when I’m walking down the street past a woman carrying on an incomprehensible conversation with herself.

And I’m reminded of how difficult this calling is when I hear about people like Brandy Martell, who, as you know, was murdered last Sunday in downtown Oakland and would still be alive if she hadn’t been transgender.

Sometimes I feel like Peter, James, and John in the garden with Jesus before he was arrested, failing to stay awake to pray with their Lord. Jesus looks at them knowingly and says, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). Even on the eve of the loss of their friend, brother, and savior, they found themselves just wanting to go to sleep—to not even have to try to face what was coming. Likewise, my flesh can feel so very weak, even when my spirit wants to break down all of the walls of injustice . . .

So how can we stay awake through our pain to do the work of building God’s kin-dom here on earth? Is it possible? How do we move toward the crystal stair, all without collapsing in exhaustion on stairs chock-full of tacks, splinters, and torn-up boards? Where do we find our strength to go on?

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Countdown to the Justice Calls Book Release – Day 9

In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Sandhya Rani Jha, author of Pre-Post Racial America and Director of the Oakland Peace Center in Oakland, California.

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Rubin “Hurricane” Carter passed away last week. You may know him from either the movie or the Bob Dylan song about his life, or you may even remember his boxing career. He was arrested and jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. He was black in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he fought until he was released. While in prison, he wouldn’t wear the uniform, eat the food, or do the prison work. He knew he was not a prisoner and he refused to let them make him one.

Which made me think about today’s Scripture passage about forgiveness. While I’ve always read this passage as Jesus placing yet another burden on us, another impossible standard to meet, is it possible Jesus was trying to make our lives on the margins easier? Was this Jesus’ last act of mercy before ascending into heaven? Was he perhaps telling us not “it will be harder to be you; deal with it,” but was he actually telling us, “You do not have to be prisoners?” Perhaps Jesus was actually giving to his beloved and faithful disciples power over the one thing they would always have control over—their attitudes toward others. No matter the suffering they would endure for remaining faithful, no one could make them prisoners if they knew they had the power to forgive and chose to use it. After all, there is liberation in forgiveness. It is a key to get out of the prison we have built for ourselves, a prison with walls of bitterness and bars of hatred . . .

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Countdown to the Justice Calls Book Release – Day 8

In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Derek Penwell, author of The Mainliners’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World and pastor of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky.

  

“Where’s the church on this whole issue of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender sisters and brothers created by God? Who stands with them? Who stands up for them? And what would it even look like to stand up? . . . What would it take for the church to make a difference in a world where people are bullied, killed, and abandoned for being who God created them to be? What would it take?”

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Countdown to the Justice Calls Book Release – Day 7

In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Alton B. Pollard III, Dean and Professor of Religion and Culture at Howard University School of Divinity.

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“As a once disinherited people, we have known something about searing brands and burning flesh, iron chains and fetters and being locked away. We have known what it is to be sold downriver and sold out, about plantations and overseers, slave drivers and patty-rollers, the KKK and Citizens’ Councils, untold rapings and lynchings, and Jane and Jim Crow. We are also acquainted with far more recent cruelties, with official policies, customs, and institutions that work to subdue us behind concrete walls and iron bars and glass ceilings and railroad tracks and tracking systems and media lynchings and gentrification and gerrymandering and annexation and the annihilation of our humanity. We know about police crackdowns and crack houses and roadblocks and cell blocks and lockdowns and indecency and detention and ‘law and order’ and profiling and the New Jim Crow assault on our communities. But we have also come to know far more than we are willing to admit, and more than we care to discuss, about other equally painful realities, powerful prejudices, searing hatreds, legal pogroms, social indignities, moral revulsions, derisive fears directed at persons and groups solely or largely for reasons of sexuality and/or gender. We know about patriarchy and misogyny and emotional and physical humiliation and sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual violence in the home and sexual impropriety from the pulpit to the pew to the public square. We know about hierarchies of power and ‘special rights’ polemics and sexism and heterosexism and homophobia and hate crimes and gay-bashing and lesbian-bashing and opposition to marriage equality and HIV disease, dis-ease and death. We know about the suffering and rejection and alienation and exclusion and subordination and condemnation and devaluation and discrimination of those who live on the margins of the marginalized, who are the very oppressed of the oppressed, who are the sexually battered and abused and sick and dying, who are lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgender and questioning and queer and straight, who are our sisters and brothers and beloved partners and friends, who are we ourselves. We know, we know, we know because we who claim to be the church have betrayed them.”

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Countdown to the Justice Calls Book Release – Day 6

In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Barbara K. Lundblad, Joe R. Engle Professor of Preaching Emerita at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

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“Genesis 2 is about human relationship more than human anatomy. While the text doesn’t affirm gay marriage, it does affirm the goodness of human companionship and the formation of new families. Gay marriage will never damage marriage as much as the infidelity of politicians who have condemned gay marriage. ‘What makes a relationship moral?’ It’s not the gender of the partners, but the faithfulness and love the partners have for each other.”

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