Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday on our liturgical calendars. This is the day where we commemorate the protest march against the Empire that Jesus coordinated in Jerusalem just before he was executed. Much like the history of Pride, Palm Sunday has become tragically de-politicized. What began in both cases as radical resistance against unjust authority is now painted as something of a politely permitted parade. But without keeping in mind these revolutionary roots, we lose context for Palm Sunday and for our own LGBTQIA+ history.
There is a lot that goes into planning an action like Palm Sunday, a lot of roles to play, a lot of materials to gather. Jesus relied on the community to provide for the things that he would need. He trusted that the movement that was being built was wider and bigger than the people in his close personal circle. He knew that outside of the people he regularly interacted with, like his disciples and benefactors, there were people in the midst of their ordinary lives who were sympathetic and supportive of the cause in their own way. Jesus – who had a target on his back – would have had every reason to be skeptical about who he let be a part of his work. But instead of being suspicious of outsiders or acting as a gatekeeper, Jesus reached outside the scope of his normal relationships to invite people in.
LGBTQIA+ people have often had to learn to reach outside of our normal, socially mandated circles – like our family of origin, like traditional churches – to build chosen families and gather support. Many of us have been denied, betrayed, and wounded by our home churches or our families of origin. But out of this pain, new ways of being community have been formed. LGBTQIA+ people form networks of mutual aid to help one another in times of crisis or need, whether that is raising money for gender-affirming surgery or paying someone’s rent. When the ELCA did not ordain openly LGBTQIA+ leaders, we formed the extraordinary roster, outside of the normal, permissible way of doing things. And queer teenagers in isolated and queer-antagonistic regions reach out online to form friendships across the world that save lives.
Our status quo has been interrupted this year in the midst of a global pandemic. Our normal ways of forming community, extending support, and sharing resources have been stretched. But the world and the church have much to learn from LGBTQIA+ people. We have always been resilient and scrappy and creative in building unconventional relationships. We have often reached out, like Jesus, hoping that even if we didn’t quite know who it would be, that scattered amongst our neighborhoods and the internet, there are people there waiting and ready to provide for what we need.
Holy God, you sent your Begotten One, Jesus Christ to show us your radical way of Love and Liberation. We praise you for giving us the gift of unconventional relationships and creative community building. Thank you for the unknown helpers embedded in our networks. Empower us too to be ready to provide for our neighbors’ needs in times of uncertainty. Amen.
Elle Dowd (she/her/hers) is a bi-furious seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America currently serving as the full-time pastoral intern at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square, Chicago. Elle has pieces of her heart in Sierra Leone, where her two children were born, and in St. Louis where she learned from the radical, queer, Black leadership during the Ferguson Uprising. She was formerly a co-conspirator with the movement to #decolonizeLutheranism and currently works as a community organizer with the Faith and Justice Collective and SOUL, writes regularly for the Disrupt Worship Project, and facilitates workshops on gender and sexuality and the Church in both secular conferences and Christian spaces. Elle has interests in queer and feminist Biblical interpretation and liberation and body theology. Elle loves spending time with the people she loves and on weekends, Elle tours the city of Chicago in search of the best brunch.
Elle’s Twitter and Instagram handles are @HowNowBrownDowd and her public Facebook page is Facebook.com/ElleDowdMinistry
As a child, my grandparents introduced me to the great musician and comedian, Victor Borge.
In one of his shticks, Victor steps up to the grand piano on a stage with great formality and sits with the posture of a professional. He seems to fumble a bit not knowing which hand goes where before switching the order of the music sheets in front of him (getting a good laugh from the audience).
He begins playing this vibrant pattern of descending notes with almost staccato-like punctuation. The tune isn’t familiar to the crowd. Without missing much of a beat, Victor flips the orientation of his music upside down and begins playing once again. This time, you can clearly tell that the piece in front of him is the “William Tell Overture.”
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have flipped and switched the orientation of the scores our hands – and bodies and voices – are used to playing.
Adapting to, even fighting, an invisible enemy feels like being blindfolded and swinging the bat at a pinata just as it bends and weaves in a different direction – swooosh!
And yet, coming into conflict with invisible enemies is not an unfamiliar situation for Christians.
This is not where I introduce some concept of evil in the form of a Devil – rather, it’s when I remind myself and others of the enemies of institutionalized racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism, poverty, colonialism…
Claiming these things as “invisible” enemies diminishes the real experiences of hurt, pain, damage, degradation, and death that is done in the name of those vile institutions. Just as COVID-19 is very real to those who have contracted the illness and those caring for the ill, so too are these injustices realities – and they do require us to behave differently.
“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation” sings Mark in Jonathan Larson’s highly acclaimed Broadway musical “RENT” – a musical that engages many of these “invisible enemies” at a time that feels like the end of the world: the AIDS crisis and the end of the 20th century.
The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation. The opposite of racism isn’t a welcome statement, it’s radically seeking justice and reparations. The opposite of COVID-19 isn’t health, it’s life and livelihood.
In response to COVID-19 we must social distance. We must shelter in place when directed. We must care for the under- and unemployed, the isolated, the multiply marginalized and all who are vulnerable to the adverse effects of capitalism, especially in these unprecedented times.
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.” – Matthew 25:35-37
The voices, leadership, and ministries of the marginalized are to be lifted up in this moment of crisis for we have something to offer in these times.
At ELM, we strive to center the most marginalized in our community and base our work and efforts and responses around those needs.
In study, discernment and collaboration, the ELM Staff and Board of Directors have taken the following actions:
2020 Proclaim Gathering Canceled – The Gathering has been a space for Proclaim members to come together and replenish themselves for the work ahead. The very real fears and concerns raised by the COVID19 pandemic interrupt and even threaten our ability to gather with our usual sense of joy and delight. Without knowing when the need for social distancing and sheltering in place will end, we would like to focus on what we can do now rather than postpone and hope for the best.
Assistance Grants for Proclaim Members in Need – The ELM Board of Directors has decided to redirect the money raised for scholarships to attend the 2020 Gathering to instead be used to support the immediate needs of our Proclaim community through an emergency assistance micro-grant program. Grants are available only to Proclaim members and may be used for personal or professional costs. (Click here if you are interested in donating to this fund).
Making Space to Connect – ELM has long used web conferencing tools to do our national work remotely. During this time of crisis, we will be opening up a specific Zoom line to be made available to Proclaim members for any need. Whether it be connecting with family members who live far away or hosting online worship services, Proclaim members can work with the ELM staff to schedule events on this line without having to purchase a license personally.
It is true that we do not know how long the physical and social isolation and concern over COVID-19 will last; and, while it persists we must be prepared for the overwhelming grief at the loss it will bring. Our marginalized siblings will have wisdom and guidance to offer in these areas as well.
Just as when you look into the wrong end of a telescope things that are far off can seem even further away, a crisis like COVID-19 can make us feel farther from our community, or even our God, than ever before. But, if you turn the telescope around, things that were once far off are brought near.
Let’s turn the telescope around and see the community and the wisdom that surrounds us.
Amanda Gerken-Nelson, (she/her/hers) is social distancing and working from her home in Portland, ME with her wife and their dog. Amanda finds herself turning to the wisdom of prophets like Joel Workin in this time of heightened anxiety and is finding comfort in daily walks, lighting candles in prayer, and demolition projects in her new home (see bio photo).
morning light presses against the window pane and
Pastor Anna Gordy (she/ her/ hers) is a resident of San Antonio who grew up in the Deep South and who moved regularly across the continental United States as an adult. She is grateful after a lifetime of searching to finally be able to call Texas “home”. Mother, grandmother(!), artist, spouse, lover, pastor, and friend are her callings, and she believes the call we share is to be neighbor to all the world.
Second Sunday in Lent: A Reflection by Sergio Rodriguez
Creator, Keep us
From Familias torn up
Deja y Vete.
The words of promise from God to Abram lessen not the sting of having to leave home for a new home. This movement from Familia to better pastures is triune for person@s who make this journey during this Lenten season; away from tierra(country), hogar (home) y Dioscito. The pain is a triune mystery; pass the loaves around, tears abound. Creator, May the Forces that Defy you and tear apart our familias be kept away from us.
O Slumbering Shade,
Keep our Swiping left or right
And so, where does help come for those on this three-fold journey? It is a camino towards encountering life and love in the digital age. Our Shade slumbers, our profiles move left and right, and we are kept not in everlasting serenity but in an uneasy tension; in love and community. Our identity and place in our communities dubiously go in and out of sync; out going out and coming in predicated on human caprice and prejudice. Wake up, slumbering Shade, and rise up for rest and life stand ever so on the ever-moving ground of evil. Amen.
Heaven and Earth keep
Record of so-called progress
Humans born in bits.
The cosmos itself stands as a witness against the very working of principalities and powers in nulling our common life and existence as we race towards the point of no return. No longer shall our communities vacillate between the law and gospel, promise and wrath but between singularity and humanity. Our bodies, our Queer progeny, the very promise of land, all these realities continue to be fragmented by the principalities and powers with the promise of a new age of conformity. Not with a particular land, creed, identity and familia but in the white-washed promise that we shall call into existence the silicone things that do not exist. God of our ancestors, may your creation reveal to us the principalities and powers that struggle against our life in the cosmos that you may give life to we who are dead in the winding turns of this camino.
Hills and Paris Burn,
Love blows, fluids gush out,
…“From or where it goes”
The Pain of leaving behind, of love lost, of the struggle against principalities and powers, burns deep in our communal life. Yet amid this pain, the breath of life, the gift of love from above, comes into us. New life trickles down into the very communities that burn in the fires of the forces that defy God and births a radically different way of being. No fragments, no torn Familias, no false promises but the tender whispers of our teacher gushing out into our hearts. Words of love, Word of life.
Sergio Rodriguez (he/him/his) is the Pastoral Intern/Campus Minister-(Rice University) at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, TX. He is a final year student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. He is originally from McAllen, TX.
I admit it: the first place I looked when I was assigned this text was www.workingpreacher.org, and my eyes fell on Melinda Quivik’s commentary immediately. There it was on the screen: “The pastor’s challenge is to work at making a familiar text strange…”
The point of this Lenten blog, it seems, is to make the familiar text queer.
What unique perspectives can the Proclaim community bring to reading the Bible? Most, if not all, LGBTQIA+ people have had to read the Bible with fear and trembling, then with anger, then curiosity. After a long time in the wilderness, we tend to read the Bible with liberation and courage. We demand things of the texts. We demand things of God. “Explain yourself!” “Where are you?” “What might you be doing in me and through me?”
Well, turns out Jesus was likely asking the same things of God as Jesus entered the wilderness, the passage we find in Matthew 4:1-11. We read this story at the beginning of every Lent. “O church,” the trembling pastor proclaims, “we enter the wilderness of Lent, these 40 days of denial and wandering.”
Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The tried and true path preacher’s take on this text is the assurance we will be tempted, just as Jesus was tempted. Jesus forsook Satan (try to use the word “forsook”. It just doesn’t get enough airtime these days) Jesus forsook Satan and so should you. There’s rarely an acknowledgement that Jesus is God and can do things we cannot. So try really hard, dear listeners, like Jesus did. White knuckle it.
That’s a terrible way to introduce Lent.
Oh, we can muse about the temptations Jesus faces, the temptations to eat, the temptations of power. The temptations of risky behavior which God will save us from. We might describe different ways Satan tempts us today: too much social media. Obsessions with fitness or fashion or investment accounts. Political infighting. Racism, sexism, homophobia. Look how relevant this sermon is!
But what’s the queer perspective?
I won’t speak for all queers, but I’ll speak for myself. This Lent, as I approach this passage, I think about the wilderness.
To be LGBTQIA+ is to have spent time in the wilderness. There were lonely days. Days when we were sure no one understood us. Days when we didn’t understand ourselves.
For some of us, this led to suicidal thoughts. This led to violent behaviors, physical, self-harming, emotional and social violence. We lashed out to ourselves and others. We could not imagine a path out of this wilderness, so we wandered, getting into trouble. Getting lost.
In my queer reading of this story, I imagine the isolation. Jesus knew He was baptized. He knew He was God’s Son. Those experiences, described one verse earlier in Matthew, were real. Many of us were fortunate enough to know God claimed us and loves us, but we still cannot find our way among people. We cannot find a place to belong in society.
The wilderness changes us, y’all.
That loneliness may be healed, but it has changed the shape of our hearts forever. We know hunger in deep, embedded ways. We have longed to find a settled home, in our families, in our churches, in our relationships, either platonic and romantic.
Jesus spent 40 days not being seen. Not being heard. I suspect He would remember that forever.
It made Him compassionate to others He found in His ministry. He recognized the look of a lost soul because that lost soul connected to something deep inside, something that hadn’t been nurtured until the wilderness. Jesus knew how to speak to isolation, to self-doubt, to self-hatred, because He had lived into each of those things in the wilderness.
As Lutherans, we believe in the theology of the cross. We acknowledge God is found in the suffering. We acknowledge death is real and must take place for resurrection.
The Lenten journey leads to the cross, but it starts in the wilderness. It starts in a place of deep longing and confusion. It starts with that lonely place LGBTQIA+ people know.
For some of us, we had to wander in the wilderness for many years. For some of us, we have had to wander for only a brief period of time. The wilderness changes us, y’all. The wilderness prepares us to be uniquely qualified for compassion. It taught us things. Jesus received gifts for ministry in the wilderness, and so have we.
In the Matthew telling, Jesus comes out of the wilderness and finds out John has been arrested. His hometown is not safe. Jesus moves to a new place, makes new friends. Finds disciples. Starts his work. By the end of chapter 4, Jesus is healing, teaching, doing all the things God called Him to do. He finds His way. This, too, is the LGBTQIA+ story. There is a wilderness. There is also a community. There is power and strength and calling. Both are true.
Bless now, O God the journey that all your people make
The path through noise and silence, the way of give and take.
I love this hymn by Sylvia Dunstan because it acknowledges the truth. All of us go through the wilderness. I suggest this LGBTQIA+ community is ready to talk honestly about that wilderness, so that we might care for all people, all genders, all sexualities, about the times we have not been seen or heard.
And then the last verse of this hymn:
Divine eternal lover, you meet us on the road
We wait for lands of praise where milk and honey flow.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is a long road of Lent to walk. There is a land of praise ahead. But first, we must let the wilderness change us.
Brenda Bos (she/her/hers) is the Assistant to the Bishop in Southwest California Synod, working with the first openly gay bishop, R. Guy Erwin, also a member of Proclaim. Brenda lives with her wife Janis and their son, Joshua. She has not yet given up her over-ambitious list of Lenten disciplines.
by Amanda Gerken-Nelson
That’s the term many of us in the queer community serving the church have called our partners, lovers, spouses, or significant others for the past ten years. Somewhat jokingly, yet somewhat seriously, this term embodied both our deepest love and our oppression.
It stands for “Publicly Accountable Life-Long Monogamous” and it’s the language used in the 2010 revised version of the ELCA policy Vision and Expectations – in place of partner, lover, spouse, or significant other for those who are in same-gender relationships.
While seemingly descriptive, the term is explicitly conscriptive.
When the path to ordination for LGBTQIA+ individuals was opened in 2009, the invitation to serve was like that of so many churches and institutions: “you are welcome here as long as you look like us, act like us, and do not disturb our ways of being in this world.”
When I was serving as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in East Hartford, CT, I had the opportunity on a few occasions to receive new members. Recalling the wisdom of my Old Testament Professor, the Rev. Dr. Steed Davidson, who once told me “even when we welcome others into community, there is power: ‘I have the power to welcome YOU into OUR community,” I would always augment the rite of reception ever so slightly to say: “we look forward to how you will change us and help us grow evermore fully into the beautiful kin-dom of God.”
In 2019, I, on behalf of ELM, was able to bring both of these perspectives into the process to review and revise Vision and Expectations.
I was able to lift up and share the voices, perspectives, and experiences of queer people and how this document has inhibited and excluded our gifts; and, I was able to share how our gifts have the potential to change the ELCA and help us to live ever more fully into the beautiful kin-dom of God.
I have heard our church leaders say that Vision and Expectations is more than just about human sexuality, and yet it has been the crux of its application. Minimizing V&E’s focus on human sexuality minimizes and erases the oppression queer people have experienced in the world and in the church which hyper focuses on who we have sex with and/or with whom we have deep, meaningful relationships.
Certainly, there is more to V&E and the church than human sexuality, just as there is more to my relationship with my wife than our sexual intimacy.
Yet, perhaps, healing our relationship with human sexuality is exactly where we need to start this process of reconciliation so as to liberate us from the ways we have tried to confine and construct such relationships rather than celebrate the joy and awe of God’s beloved creation.
Human sexuality needs a Good Friday – a time to die to the systems of oppression that have defined with whom and how we are to be in relationship and who has power – so that we can experience the delight and release of its Easter morning.
Thank you to those who gave of their talents and treasurers in 2019 to make ELM’s advocacy and activism in this process possible. The journey continues and I look forward to seeking it out with you in 2020.
Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) serves as executive director of ELM and is a proud member of Proclaim and a rostered minister in the ELCA. Amanda would like to thank Dr. Davidson for ruining Christmas and for giving her faith the breadth and depth she needed to sustain her in ministry.
A 2019 Reflection by Lewis Eggleston
In this season of hearts, chocolates and likes, it’s my great pleasure to reflect on the most liked ELM Communications of 2019! Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries received an extraordinary amount of love, likes, and shares in 2019 and, if you’re like me, you might be curious what resonated with our community.
Over the past year our social media presence has grown by over 60%! More folks read our Pride devotionals, our Advent Poems, our weekly blogs, than ever before. We have ministry leaders reading, educating, and praying with our weekly materials in their own contexts around the world. They are praising the heartfelt impact the perspectives of LGBTQIA+ ministry leaders have made on their community. ELM and the Proclaim community continue to enrich & transform not only social media platforms but hearts and minds as well.
What could the Good News look like on Social Media? Let’s take a look:
This image is the most shared and far-reaching post from 2019 (photo left, image descriptions below). Thanks to the InFaith Foundation, ELM had a huge presence at the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, which made it possible for ELM to stand in real-time solidarity on the floor of the assembly and watch in awe at the overwhelming support shown from the assembly when they declared the ELCA a “Sanctuary Body”. This post was shared nearly 1,000 times and reached over 97,000+ people! To me, this affirms that we remain a bold tradition and when we act boldly, rooted in the Gospel, it both resonates and commissions people to the inclusive church body.
Lastly, the post to receive the MOST Love & Likes (850+) in 2019 happened when the Southeastern Synod elected an openly gay & married Bishop. Proving that when congregations make the bold & Spirit-driven move to call LGBTQIA+ pastors they grow to LOVE these called ministry leaders and perhaps one-day vote them into office as Bishop.
Thank you, ELM family for all the Likes and especially the ♥. Blessings!
(Photo Descriptions: First: Image of Sky and Cross with text: The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) declares itself a sanctuary body. Second: Photo of Bishop Strickland with the words: Congrats Bishop-elect Strickland from your family at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.)
Lewis Eggleston (He/Him/His) is the Associate Director of Communications and Development for ELM. He currently lives in Germany with his Air Force spouse and their dog-child Carla. Ordination into the Ministry of Word and Service is his goal for 2020!
By Olivia LaFlamme (ELM Program Director)
Time, as we know it, is a construction. It is not naturally occurring. It is a tool, an instrument, that we use to measure our days and lives.
“I am 40 years old”
“I’m finally going on that trip to Copenhagen this year.”
“I was in labor for 22 hrs!”
Time is a factor in all of those statements. Their meaning is made known by the relationship to a measurement of time-gone-by but I notice something else in there. Change!
Time is also a way to mark a change, a movement from one thing to the next. As the great speculative fiction writer Octavia Butler said, “the only lasting truth is change”. What if we calculated our lives in change? What if the equation included discovery, expansion, pruning, and stillness? That’s an exciting prospect for me and when I’m bogged down by a scarcity mentality, I remember that I have a choice. I can frame my life differently by posing a simple intervention, “but what has changed?”
Much has changed since February of 2019 for ELM. There are just three that I would like to bring forward.
1) Proclaim membership continues to stretch out across the continent; growing up and out!
2) The Gathering: The church (un)bound boasted the largest attendance ever.
3) The Queer Leadership Development Series made a grand entrance as the new kid to the program scene.
*accepts round of applause*
Time changes us; that’s a fact. So does heartbreak, accepting a new job, moving into a new home, _________ (you fill in the blank). What changed you in 2019?
I want finish out the Octavia Butler quote because it’s just so good. Consider it my offering to you in the year of 2020.
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
-Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)
Olivia LaFlamme (they/them/theirs) is a Black gender non-conforming queer feminist residing in Durham, NC. They are the Program Director at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. These days home, family, and doing puzzles are at the center for them. A goal for 2020 is learning how to sew!