“True Trans Soul Rebel” by Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace

Devotional By Jon Rundquist

CW: Language, Self-harm, Weapons

“Does God Bless Your Transsexual Heart?”

This poignant question comes from Laura Jane Grace the leader of Against Me! Laura Jane’s question comes from the perspective of both a transwoman and someone who was once a teenage boy kicked out of a Florida church. She later wrote in her autobiography, “When a church turns you away, it feels as though God himself is rejecting you, saying you are damaged beyond His help.”

This song “True Trans Soul Rebel” has been on repeat in my mind all throughout my journey in seminary and afterward. Yes, this question of God loving my transsexual heart has appeared as well. Or God’s Church. More specifically, the rural congregations of the ELCA. Long before I mostly knew that I was trans, I knew that I was called to serve the rural church. As any similarly called LGBTQIA+ leader in the church, I knew that most calls for such leaders would be offered for urban-suburban congregations, due to the (generally) more frequent occurrences of affirming congregations.

I remained committed to the idea of a rural call, even (twice) committing to candidacy in a rural synod. I was going to be that “True Trans Soul Rebel”. Rogue One’s “Rebellions are built on Hope” has been plastered on my Facebook every time I sit in front of my candidacy committee. The first (and only) tattoo I have is that of a Star Wars rebellion symbol, colored as a trans flag (right). My version of True Trans Soul Rebel.

My most recent joy brought by this song is my 3-yr old singing, “Who’s gonna take you home, tonight / Who’s gonna take you home” every now and then. God’s got this. Wherever this leads, God’s gonna take us home. Coming out of the closet is nothing short of rebellion, and leading God’s church as an out LGBTQIA+ person is truly divine.

Jon Rundquist (he/her/theirs) is a non-binary trans/genderqueer rebellious preacher of the rural Northwoods, where they are a stay-at-home parent and an occasional electronics team member at Target. Jon has many loves, including his wife and two children, and an affinity for sci-fi/fantasy Star Trek/Wars/Gate. Yes, that’s six slashes. She hopes to one day serve in ordained ministry for the God and Church she loves. Rebellions are built on hope after all. 

“A Deeper Love” by Aretha Franklin

Devotional by Carla Christopher

When I heard Aretha Franklin growl “Pride; A Deeper Love” at my very first Pride just a few months after coming out it gave me LIFE! A church girl turned survivor of conversion therapy and toxic church, being told that I was worthy of love and deserved survival was revolutionary. I twirled, skipped, and danced my way across Bryant Park in New York City with fae boys and stud women still rocking the James Dean look.

As we shared a moment in all our diversity, I knew a oneness that I hadn’t experienced outside of the church. When Aretha told me getting out of bed that morning was a victory worth celebrating, I believed her. She sang that the love in my heart would give me the strength to get through the day, and I needed that strength in those days. I still do on rough days.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized as strong and confident and empowered as the song is, Aretha isn’t singing to or about herself. She calls out to the people, sure. The world needs to know we are here! She lifts herself up when the world isn’t there to do it. Absolutely! But, she takes a break mid-song to offer thanks to the source of all the luscious, brave goodness that she is, that we are. She asks for the strength to continue on, with the humble beauty of the Psalmist.

Not sure who this prayer is directed to? Give her gospel album a listen. Once the chills have subsided, you will hear that same power in her club anthem.

As you live bold, brave, unapologetically proud today, know that it’s okay if you get tired sometimes. It’s okay if you feel dysphoric today or if you didn’t come out AGAIN in a new space. You’re still here. You’re not going any-dang-where. And you will survive…but that’s another song. For today, we pray to Jesus together – “I want to thank you for helping me see there’s a power that lives deep inside of me. Give me the strength to carry on, always be strong. Pride. A deeper love. Amen.”

Carla Christopher (she/her/hers) is a seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary – Gettysburg and Vicar of Union Lutheran church in York, PA. She is the founder and co-president of the York LGBTQIA+ Resource Center and co-chair of Toward Racial Justice, the diversity task force of Lower Susquehanna Synod.

“Is There Life Out There” by Reba McEntire

Devotional by Rev. Anna Tew

The LGBTQIA+ nightlife of Atlanta often represents the best of the South to me. On any given weekend night, especially in Midtown, you can find people of many races, nationalities, ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities and expressions all enjoying the night together.

On one particular evening in 2014, I was standing with my friends who are my family, watching a gorgeous drag queen perform Reba McEntire’s “Is There Life Out There,” and the Holy Spirit descended.

The song tells the story of a young woman from the South who married at twenty, and finds herself feeling trapped. The chorus goes like this: “Is there life out there / So much she hasn’t done / Is there life beyond her family and her home / She’s done what she should, should she do what she dares? / She doesn’t want to leave; she’s just wondering is there life out there.”

Every one of us in that bar sang every word. We sang because Atlanta is a haven for us LGBTQIA+ folk in the middle of the rural South. Because we, too, once felt trapped. Because we, too, didn’t want to leave our homes. Because we did what we “should” for so long before we did what we dared: to be our full selves. We pounded the air with our fists and raised our cups and sang at the top of our lungs as if to say, “We’re still here – hallelujah!

Sometimes the Holy Spirit appears as drag queen lip syncing to Reba.

Sometimes the love of God swoops in and saves your soul when you least expect it: like at a pub on a Friday night. May the love of God swoop in and save your soul again today: by land, by sea, or by drag queen. There is life out there, friends. There is.

Bio: The Rev. Anna Tew is a 30-something Lutheran pastor serving Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in South Hadley, Massachusetts. A product of several places, she was born in rural Alabama, lived most of her adult life in Atlanta, and now lives in and adores New England. In her spare time, Anna enjoys climbing the nearby mountains, traveling, exploring cities and nightlife, and keeping up with politics and pop culture.

Tim Fisher: Extraordinary Saint

Reflection by Deacon Ross Murray

The movement for LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the full life of the church lost a saint when Tim Fisher died. 

For the casual observer of the Lutheran LGBTQIA+ movement, Tim and his work may not have been immediately apparent. He wasn’t someone who sought the spotlight, but worked diligently in support of others in the movement. Tim wasn’t a member of Proclaim. He wasn’t clergy or a deacon. He was a layperson, an administrator, a writer, an editor. And his calling was so clear and apparent to everyone who knew him. He was my colleague at ReconcilingWorks (though at the time, the organization was known as Lutherans Concerned/North America). 

Tim’s ministry went beyond the issue of ordination, relationship recognition, or church policy. He worked, systematically, pragmatically, relationally, that we could become a church that continued to take steps that welcome, include, and utilize the gifts that we all, clergy or lay, bring to the church. A brilliant writer, he penned articles, op-eds, and social media statuses that informed, inspired, and challenged. 

Tim was a quiet, non-anxious presence at Churchwide meetings. He listened to proceedings carefully, talked strategically with those who supported inclusion, gracefully engaged with  those who were movable but had concerns, and gently challenging those who were in opposition to inclusion. Tim used his privilege and his presence to bring people from a place of rejection, to tolerance, to acceptance, and in some cases, even advocacy for LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church.

Tim was a straight man, who followed his calling to work for the Lutheran movement for LGBTQIA+ people. I was blessed to work with Tim on a conference for ReconcilingWorks in San Francisco in 2008, featuring a three-hour training on storytelling for change. After the training, Tim sat for a video, to practice his storytelling. In the video, Tim moves from uncertainty and discomfort to an increasing assertion that he has been the recipient of ministry and blessing, and that his work is essential to continue that blessing. 

Tim fought for LGBTQIA+ people to be included in the church, because he was already the recipient of their ministry. Even after his death, the cycle of ministry continues. Tim was ministered to by LGBTQIA+ people, and because of that, he wanted to be in a ministry that would include LGBTQIA+ people into the life of the church. Because of Tim’s ministry, we have hundreds of openly LGBTQIA+ people fulfilling their calling to ministry, at the altar, in the pulpit, in organizations, and on the street, all over the country and world.

The cycle of ministry and advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community will continue, both within and outside the Lutheran Church. Tim Fisher’s calling was to push that cycle along. And for that, we can say, “Thanks be to God.”

Deacon Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute (https://www.glaad.org/), which provides activist, spokesperson, and media engagement training and education for LGBTQ and allied community members and organizations desiring to deepen their media impact. Ross uses the best practices perfected by GLAAD to train a new generation of advocates in order to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people, as well as other marginalized communities.
Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project (https://www.thenamingproject.org/), a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies. The Naming Project has also been the subject of much media, including the award-winning film Camp Out, as well as the controversial episode “Pray the Gay Away?” of Our America with Lisa Ling.
Ross has secured national media interest in stories that bring examples of LGBTQ equality across diverse communities in America. He specializes in relationship between religion and LGBTQ people. He has written and appeared on numerous media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Religion News Service. In 2014, he was named one of Mashable’s “10 LGBT-Rights Activists to Follow on Twitter.”

I’ll Cover You from RENT the Musical

Devotional by Vicar Lewis Eggleston

On their way to replace a stolen coat, “I’ll Cover You” is a song about a romantic love where one person (Tom Collins) acknowledges how very little physical items and finances he has to bring into this relationship and all he can offer in return are embraces, kisses, and undying love for Angel.

RENT has and will forever have a special place in my heart. I was the luckiest boy in the world to play Angel in a production after the Air Force stationed us in Oklahoma. I had just been rejected for a pastoral internship and I thought ministry in Oklahoma would not be possible because of who I was.

Playing this role anywhere takes guts; playing Angel in rural Oklahoma, felt a little “To Wong Fu.” Portraying radical, unconditional love as someone from the margins shakes up the patriarchal system. Sometimes the season tickets holders would complain about the “edginess” of RENT (20 years after its debut on Broadway), some would walk out after the first Act, and some thought Angel in boy clothes was an altogether different character than Angel in girl clothes. Yet, hearts and minds were changed. The number of young LGBTQIA+ people that came up in tears after each performance was staggering. I’ll never forget their stories.

Among those who supported the show, was my mother (Pictured Lower Left Corner with Proud Mom Look). The LGBTQIA+ community often create their own families, not by choice, but by necessity. In celebration of Pride in June and Mother’s Day this weekend, I’m grateful my mother said “I’ll Cover You.” She sheltered me, hugged me, kissed me, loved me, and like Collins I can never repay her for all she’s done for me, except to show her my love and gratitude. I’m thankful for all the Mama Bears out there who choose to love their LGBTQIA+ children. I pray for those in our communities that had to cut these ties so they could survive, that they are embraced by motherly figures who love them unconditionally, and I pray for all the motherly figures out there that shape our world in the way God desires. Amen. 

Bio: Vicar Lewis Eggleston (he/him/his) is an Air Force spouse currently living in San Antonio, TX with his husband Mitchell and dog-child Carla. He attended seminary at Pacific School of Religion and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA, and he is currently interning with Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Seguin, TX. He’s been an advocate for children’s access to the arts through both museum and symphony educational programming and has worked with homeless individuals and families for the past ten years. In his free time, he loves to attend musicals whilst fighting every urge to sing-along.

Let Us Dance

By Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer

Thumpa, thumpa was the sound of sugar and salt shakers flying through the windows of the Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco during the 1966 rebellion against biased policing. 

Thumpa, thumpa was the vibrating beat behind Harvey Milk’s protest against Coors Beer in 1969. 

Thumpa, thumpa echoed from the sound of high heels and bricks during the 1969 raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. 

Thumpa, thumpa was the music last heard in 1973 before thirty-one men and women died in the fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans French Quarter 

Thumpa, thumpa was heard in the Pulse Nightclub in 2016 before 49 people were gunned down in Orlando, Florida. 

Thumpa, thumpa was heard at Ghost Ship in Oakland before the 2016 blaze killed 36.  

Standing on the corner of 18th and Castro in San Francisco, with the blaring thumpa, thumpa bleeding into the street that had witnessed the first mention of HIV/AIDs, I shouted “out of the bars and into the streets.”  These iconic words of Harvey Milk were a nod to the queeros who had come before me and a literal call to action for the LGBTQ community. After the Pulse shooting, I declared that we not only had to come out of the bars, but out of the congregations, synagogues and mosques to proclaim the love of God to all and to counter the angery lies of those who assumed God could not love the full fabulousness of the LGBTQ community. 

Today I want to remind you that just as we have transitioned from Lent to Easter, during the season of Pride we must live boldly and forgive more boldly still.  Our extravagantly fabulous life must not only mourn the aches that we carry, but embrace the sound and the rhythm of the thumpa, thumpa. 

Let us dance for those who sought the joy and freedom of LGBTQ bars and were met with violence. 

Let us dance long enough to decide to keep living. Let us dance for a beautiful generation that was lost to the AIDs epidemic. 

Let us dance for those who brought us camp and drag, when all we could muster were tears. 

Let us dance because it is our best revenge in a time when our rights are debated. 

Let us dance for the liberation we are still marching towards. Let us dance in celebration of the gift that is our sacred sexuality. Let us dance because we are fearfully and wonderfully made.   

Let us dance in celebration of a God who always joins us in the dancing.   

Just as God came to Moses in the burning bush, to Jacob in a wrestling match, Ezekiel in dreams and Hildebrand in visions, may God find you in the thumpa, thumpa.  Amen.

Bio: The Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer is the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church and Executive Director of Welcome – a communal response to poverty in San Francisco, CA. Pastor Megan is an author, artist, activist and educator who speaks and preaches nationally on issues of homelessness, sexuality and gender. Pastor Rohrer was a 2014 honorable mention as an Unsung Hero of Compassion with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was named honorary royalty and presented a Medal of Tolerance in Indonesia, received an Honorary Doctorate from Palo Alto University, Distinguished Alum award from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, is an award wining historian, musician, filmmaker and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in transgender nonfiction.