We all know the routine. A person on the internet questions your belief, misinterprets the Bible to contradict Christian teachings. They argue that we should let the hungry starve, kick the downtrodden, rob from the naked, and turn off the neon welcome signs of our hearts to marginalized folks.
You disengage, knowing you are right, you unfriend, mute, snooze the person on social media.
The routine continues, you reach out to a supportive echo chamber of people who completely agree you had no part in the conflict – they ignore any potential nuance you could rethink, and reduce the experience to “you’re right, they’re wrong.” The tempting routine feels so cozy with support that you are right.
But being right may not be helpful. The choir of support will make you feel better, but may rob you of an opportunity to decolonize our lives, our religion, our world. Perhaps, you need an election year intervention. I believe conflict and tension are an essential. We can’t dread conflict, just like we can dread the air we need to breathe. It is an inevitable task if you care to faithfully create change
Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it is not worth ignoring another person’s humanity or transformational engagement. God nudges us impatiently. I think that often disengaging from conversation and having friends who never invite reflection can be a misuse of privilege. I’m not calling anyone out, but rather calling us all in to consider if we are abandoning conversations from which our privilege will protect us. We may be making these conversations the responsibility of people who need to escape them for survival. Personally, I need a community that can remind me that even though I am queer, brown, and quirky that I still have privilege.
The nuance of intersectional identity cultivates responsibility and pushes us to hard conversations. Because whiteness matters. Presenting masculine matters. College education matters. Speaking without an accent matters. Citizenship matters. There is no oppression competition and there is still responsibility in privileges even if you also identify with a group that is marginalized.
We can push more by having intentional community.
A good friend of mine, Rev. Matt Keadle, and I were venting, lamenting, about people who dangerously have behaviors and habits rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other -ISMs.
When I get worked up, I feel urgent about issues, talking way too fast and too much, and finding relief in constantly offering context that I am too emotional. It is a bad habit that implicitly asks for understanding or forgiveness for being upset over oppressive behavior. I want to be right.
Matt balances the conversation and the pace of our thinking; he takes deep thoughtful pauses to consider different perspectives and allows his heart to remember the vast number of different people it holds; he doesn’t speak if he is unsure; he can be angry and sad while still engaging his values and resisting an urge to be petty.
Sometimes, Matt really bothers me by having no natural pettiness. At times, talking to Matt is not fun or indulgent of my feelings.
But conversations with Matt are God-filled, essential for our shared work, wellbeing and sustainability in this work. Matt keeps me angry, honest, and clamorous in my expectations of God. I’d like to think that I help the Holy Spirit stir up Matt. I make him uncomfortable at times by just being and talking with the assuredness that nothing I can say would break the friendship, and that I can feel when he wants to say something and I make an awkward, pressuring space for him to say it.
To be honest with readers, Matt is white and also straight. He is cisgender too. Oh yeah, Matt is also from the midwest. Nothing about the richness of either of our individual intersectional identities dictates that we should be friends.
But we reach out to one another because we are different, we don’t go right to making each other feel better about a tough experience. We ask each other to be reflective, to know we both can be wrong, hurtful. We trust our values are rooted in God and love, but not in being right. We see when disengagement is about survival and when we are trying to hide away privilege and responsibility to avoid discomfort.
Maybe, you want to avoid “feeling bad” when changing and transforming. For many, it’s sad and true, but we can practice discomfort and still survive, which may mean that being right is only about a stubbornness and commitment to being right according to the whiteness and patriarchy we have been taught is “normal” and comfortable.
Get a friend who won’t rush to make you feel better without thinking.
Get out of posting in social media groups where you know everyone will agree with you.
Stop playing through the same routine.
It’s not helpful. It’s played out. Be fresh. Be bold. Be bothered. Engage.
Survive, for goodness sake, survive! But lean into the discomfort during this season of change. Wander in the desert for a little while to find deeper wells.
Two memes have echoed in my mind since I started my first call back in February of this year: “Jesus has skin in the game, and so do we,” and “Seek the well-being of the city to which I have carried you into exile,” from Jeremiah 29. Both resonated, again, as I reflected on the intersection of faith, queer identity, and politics.
With the privilege I have as a white, cisgender person, being queer has given me some “skin in the game” – wounds and barriers of being gay and married in a straight world, and a straight church. I am continually challenged by my colleagues and neighbors and friends of color, those with differing abilities or health issues, those with queer identities different from mine, to stand with those whose experiences place them further on the margins.
Jesus wasn’t a Samaritan, but he centered a Samaritan man in a story about embodying love for neighbor.
Jesus wasn’t a woman, but his longest conversation about God and life and identity was with the woman at the well.
Jesus wasn’t a tax collector, or someone shamed for supporting themselves as a sex worker, but that didn’t stop him from eating with those who were.
And he paid a price for that: ultimately, Jesus was arrested, tortured, and lynched by the state for proclaiming God’s justice all the way to the margins.
Jesus had some serious skin in the game, y’all, and I am increasingly convicted that I need to as well.
“Seek the well-being of the city.” I had a conversation with a family member recently about a whole lot of things we vehemently disagree on, and as I listened really hard to understand where they were coming from, I finally understood: with every fiber of their being, they believe that individualism is going to save us, as people and as a nation.
I responded that what got me through seminary, and the process to get a call that went on forever and was fraught with anti-LGBTQIA systemic challenges and bias, was not rugged pull-myself-up-individualism, but all of you. This community of LGBTQIA clergy and seminarians did not weaken me, or encourage self-pity and blame. Rather, you showed me the joys and the injustices of the world and church in which we live, and flamed the fire of my call, and encouraged me at times when I thought I couldn’t do one more thing. I could not do any of this on my own.
And we aren’t meant to. “Seek the well-being of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Not my own well-being, or the well-being of just those like me or those closest to me, but the well-being of the city. And especially now, when we are all in exile in different ways, I take this as my guide, in my preaching, my life, and my vote.
When I go to the poles, it is because Moses demanded justice from Pharaoh, Rizpah mourned for her children until they were buried, Jeramiah called the people to seek the well-being of the whole community, Mary claimed that God’s justice was going to be a reality in THIS world, and Jesus over and over demonstrated God’s commitment to a world of justice for all people, especially those on the margins.
When I speak out on “political” issues, it is not because I am a democrat or a liberal, but because as a queer person of faith, I find it confounding that something like “feed the hungry, heal the sick, welcome the stranger, care for the widow” is considered political in the first place.
Seek the well-being of the city to which you are sent, because we all have skin in the game!
After nine years of working at The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, Proclaim member Meagan McLaughlin (she/her/hers) studied at Luther Seminary and United Theological Seminary and graduated with her MDiv in December of 2015. Pastor Meagan was ordained in January of 2020, and is currently serving her first call at Christ Lutheran Church, in Webster Groves, MO. Meagan, her wife, Karen, and their three cats live in St. Louis, and when she is not preaching (on Zoom), providing (socially-distanced) pastoral care, serving on (yet another) committee, or walking in one the parks in her new neighborhood, you can probably find her cuddling with her cats and binge-watching Disney+.
As Christians, we follow a man who was political. The Good News that he proclaimed empowers us to be political. The Jesus I know and the Gospel I read are inherently political. Neither are partisan but it’s right there in the Greek, politikos: of, for, or relating to citizens. So while “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, we can insist that religious values be used to govern. And much deeper values than the #ThoughtsAndPrayers that are too often tweeted out.
Christian values that cry out for the release of those imprisoned and the freedom of the oppressed.
Rev. Ben Hogue was blessed to bring the words of his saint-mentor Joel Workin into the halls of Congress, opening the House of Representatives in prayer on the day of his installation at Lutheran Church of the Reformation. Ben lives next to Reformation with his fiancé Marshall, and their Beltway boys, Bogart (cat) and Bosco (dog). He is very excited that candy corn is back on store shelves.
By Lewis Eggleston
The newest Hairspray movie came out soon after I did. As a gay kid who went to college in rural South Dakota with limited options for fun, my friends and I would blast the Hairspray CD soundtrack as we drove down country roads taking time off from our textbooks for singing & dancing.
While not perfect, Hairspray is a liberative story that affirms “people who are different, their time is coming,” specifically for people of color. Based on true events, Hairspray tells the story of how one Baltimore TV station, in particular the Corny Collins Show, integrated their after-school teen dancing program. One particular song “Welcome to the 60’s” portrays Tracy’s gracious way of telling her mom to “get with the times” and while Tracy listens to her mother’s fears, she encourages her to step out anyway. During this song Tracy continually but sternly points at the tv, making her mother look at the screen. I’m about to take a leap here, but please go with me.
The Church is Mama Turnblad.
Do you see it now?
“I haven’t left this house since 1951?” – Mama Turnblad
Soon after that Tracy grabs her mother’s hand and leads her out the door until they’re outside and Mama Turnblad says, “Oh Tracy, I’m a little light-headed. There’s so much air out here. Can’t we go someplace that’s stuffy?” Tracy said, “No.”
However, the most iconic line happens, and if you blink you might miss it, Mama Turnblad says, “Your Mama’s lookin’ at herself and wonderin’ ‘where you been?'” To which Tracy immediately replies with “Where you been?!”
My Dear Church, where you been?! (To boldly paraphrase my beloved Rev. Lenny Duncan)
Now for the big finish, if you’re familiar with this movie musical then you know one of the most iconic songs in Hairspray is Motormouth Maybelle’s “I know where I’ve been” in an AMAZING performance by Queen Latifah. To me, this call and response “Where you been?!” and “I know where I’ve been” is intentional and profoundly poignant.
The reality is, for the most part, we were handed a church that acts like Mama Turnblad. The younger generations continue to pull the church into new times, pointing continuously at the tv, pleading to “get with the times”, leave your “stuffy” sanctuaries that you “haven’t left since 1951”. This call is not new, and neither is the resistance. But, it’s my belief, our collective call is to take Mama Turnblad by the hand and lead her outside into the world until she realizes she has a voice of her own and that voice has the power to make changes in the world. The hope, however, is that someday (hopefully soon) rather than taking Mama Turnblad’s hand and (sometimes forcefully) leading her out the door into the world, we’ll have a church that personifies and literally acts like & resembles Motormouth Maybelle, a church that knows where it’s been, was a leader in the struggle, has pride in her heart because she knows she’s doing the right thing even though it’s hard, and then and ONLY THEN will our hands be gently holding each other side by side walking in the streets rather than tugging a hand that will hopefully come along like Mama Turnblad. If you don’t know where you been, how do you know where you’re going?
Let us pray, Gracious God, we confess at times we have all been Mama Turnblad, resistant to change, afraid, overly-conscious of how other’s might perceive us, but with kind hearts still. Mold us into leaders like Motormouth Maybelle, may we be a church that is fierce, fabulous, gracious, authentic, aware of other’s struggle, and present in the moment. Amen.
Lewis Eggleston (he/him/his) is the Associate Director of Development and Communications for ELM. He currently lives in Germany with his dog-child and husband awaiting the day he can travel back to visit parents, siblings, and all the nieces and nephews. He is spending his time getting to know his little village and walking the trails around the town castle. Waiting for the day he can be in another musical.
By Margarette Ouji
We are living in strange and wild times. Times that many of us have never experienced before. Many are living alone, seeing few people, and the people they are seeing are their neighbors who give them the occasional nod, and the grocery store clerk that has been working since the pandemic hit hard in March of this year. The first few weeks of “sheltering in place” weren’t too bad for me, personally. I remember seeing memes that read, “I didn’t know my preferred state of being was called quarantine.” I am a homebody and didn’t mind working from home and only going out to walk the dog and for grocery store runs.
It is now March 235th and I feel differently. I feel lonely and worried and afraid for the future and I’m sure so many of us do. Especially for those of us with histories of trauma, living through an in real-time trauma can exacerbate our feelings of loneliness, isolation, sadness, and worry, just to name a few. One place that I find solace, where I can go to regulate my emotions, my body, and my spirit, is music. It’s also where I’ve always found God. Listening to her music made me feel like I was being wrapped up in God’s arms. Her words and voice made me feel seen in a way I had never known. In 2003, my mom took me to see Cher perform with Cyndi Lauper, a real dream come true. When Cher sang, “A Song for the Lonely”, I felt the closeness of God and all of her majesty.
So let it find you
Where ever you may go
I’m right beside you
Don’t have to look no more
You don’t have to look no more, oh no
Her prayerful words in this song have once again found their way onto my “How to Survive A Pandemic” playlist and they continue to bring me comfort and I continue to find God in her captivating voice. I pray that you find comfort in these times of unknown and fear and worry. May God in all of her glory come to you in the mysterious and surprising ways she always does.
Margarette (she/her/hers) has spent these months during quarantine learning new crochet patterns and moonlighting as a Logistics Specialist for a plant-based meal delivery company. This summer she served as a camp counselor with Queeranteen Camp and participated in a 6-week workshop for queer/trans Iranian-Americans. She will begin her final year of seminary as the Vicar at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA. Margarette is a board member of ELM and was part of the planning team for the 30th anniversary of ELM. She lives in Richmond, CA, with her wife, Abby, and their dog Luther. They’re excited to share that they are expecting their first (human) child at the end of this year!
Like a lot of gay men of my generation, I did not even begin to explore what it meant to be gay, much less come out, until my mid-thirties. Unlike most of them, I arrived on the scene directly from a monastery rather than a relationship with a woman. But, like them, I was the proverbial kid in the candy store. A quarter of a century later, (twenty of those with my spouse), I am sometimes tempted to look back on those years with shame. A committed monogamous relationship wasn’t on my agenda.
I was looking. In the words of a song I often heard on my first forays into the bars, I was looking for an angel. I needed angels right then who would tell me that I was desirable. I needed angels to be patient with my inexperience. I needed angels who would help me find a new sense of belonging.
I prayed in sync with the hypnotic beat of “Send Me an Angel”. And, I believe, my prayers were answered with flesh and blood angels, genuine messengers of God. Mostly sweet, patient, generous, loving men, each of them angels unaware, who are all a part of who I am today, including and maybe even especially, the pastor part. When I am tempted to be ashamed of me in those early days or, worse, to see those men as themselves tempters, I remember my song from those days and the men who were an answer to my prayer. Perhaps you have your own angels whom you wish to remember. In this particularly devastating and yet hopeful Pride season, we stand in the midst of a great company of angels, praising God and joining in their song: “Holy, Holy, Holy!”
Austin Newberry (he, him, his) is serving in his first call as a pastor with the community gathered as First Lutheran Church in Louisville, KY and lives with his spouse in Columbus, IN.
The Joel R. Workin Scholarship Committee is thrilled to announce that the 2020 Workin Scholar is Reed Fowler!
Reed Fowler (they/them) grew up in rural Vermont and completed seminary coursework at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in May 2020, focusing on arts integration in ministry and expansive pastoral care. Previously, they studied theater at NYU Abu Dhabi and worked as a dog and cat groomer. Reed will begin their internship year at St. John’s Lutheran Church, NYC in August. They will be accompanied on internship with their dog, Ari, and cat, Gizmo. In their downtime, Reed knits, sews, and watches competition cooking shows.
See below to read Committee Chair, Michael Price Nelson’s, congratulatory letter to Reed!
I write to inform you that the Joel R. Workin Scholarship Committee of ELM has selected you as this year’s Workin Scholar. It was our unanimous conclusion that your essay (reflecting on “Oh, You Shoulda Been There” by the late Joel Workin), was an impressive and moving reflection on the cross; two pandemics, AIDS and COVID -19; and, our own responsibility as Christians living through such challenging times.
“It suddenly feels much closer to the HIV/AIDs crisis. Where identities and cultural backgrounds are blamed for a virus. Where government response (or lack thereof) decides that some people are disposable. Decides that essential workers, low-wage workers, people without healthcare, people with preexisting conditions, Black and brown communities, undocumented communities, are disposable.
But those decisions are not of God. Those commemorated with a Quilt square were not disposable. Those who are dying of COVID are not disposable.”
You moved us as you described your own struggle to make sense of, or piece together, if you will, the brokenness of this moment:
“Liminal spaces often feel like fractured spaces. These days, I am longing to stitch pieces of life and experience together into a cohesive whole, into a cohesive narrative. I have been longing and dreaming towards a patchwork quilt where each square is worn, but bound together. Bound together with memory, grief, loss, and joy. Yet that is not how trauma works. Trauma breaks us into pieces. Into fragments … It feels like every time I stitch a piece of my past into my present, I notice even more floating fragments. Is God also fragmented? Human, Divine, Spirit, flesh, Creator, wounded? “
And what a beautiful answer you offer to the question!
“Yes, and no. Always yes, and no. God dances in the Trinity, weaves us together through the Holy Spirit, pushes us to endure the birthing pains of restoration. Death and victory are entwined, cross and tomb are entwined.”
You concluded with an elegant prayer, a plea to God and a call to action and I quote only a small part of it here:
“Surround us. Enfold us. Hold us as we weave together our own stories of resurrection, and resistance, and life. We pray this through our breath, through our heartbeats, through the wounded Christ and the joyful Spirit.”
On behalf of the committee, Reed, I congratulate you on your achievement!
Joel R. Workin Scholarship Fund
Each year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel Workin. Joel was one of the three gay seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after “coming out” to their candidacy committees. Thanks to a generous endowment started by Joel’s friends and family at the time of his death, and with the support of other ongoing contributions, this award comes with a $6,500 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available to members of Proclaim.
By Kayla Sadowy
So much is going on, but you can always come around. Why don’t you just sit with me for just a little while? Come and tell me, what’s wrong? Gimme all your love, gimme all you got. When I hear these lyrics, I clearly hear God’s cry for God’s people. I hear instructions for care and concern for each other. But when I take the time to listen deeply, I hear the many nuances and risks behind the words embedded in the music. I hear a divine embrace of the queer experience.
So many highs, so many lows both in register and volume. Different tempos, layers of instruments at different times, all sorts of textures, all contained within four minutes. Most popular music would not dare touch all of these elements in one song, but the Alabama Shakes do it with minimal lyrics and maximized emotion.
See, in Gimme All Your Love, there is no mistaking the contrasts and adventures in sound which relay a pronounced intensity open to the listener’s interpretations. Is Brittany Howard’s androgynous, raspy voice lamenting? Celebrating? Seducing? What are the Alabama Shakes trying to say with those four big notes followed by sparseness? What do we do with the open instrumental section in the second half? To me, these refreshing deviations from predictable pop music scream the queer experience. The rich textures of our voices carry the complex wisdom of life experiences. Taking risks for expansive, life-giving experience is something queer people know well. One second we are high on our own freedom and liberation, and the next we know the pain of phobias and -isms meant to trap us. So I am left wondering, are we hearing the music of our communities? And, what is the music of our own words?
In a world starving for liberation, God calls us to deeply listen to all of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially those living with layers of oppressed identities. We have the capacity to turn up the volume of these voices and listen for the many textures shaping them. We can make sure our words are more than words, that they are backed up by the act of making sound and the perpetual motion of tempo. We can take a back-up role when necessary, while also understanding when it is our time to be featured. We can also remember that we are part of one absolutely fabulous band, bound together by the music we make.
Let us pray…God of all sound and music, widen our capacity to listen. Sustain our voices when they proclaim the liberation found in Christ. Give us the breath of your Spirit to sing for justice. Bless the queer voices we bring to witness. Amen.
Kayla Sadowy (she/her) is a bi-vocational seminarian based in Philadelphia. Her work as a music therapist has proven the power of music to be a force for transformation and new life, especially to oppressed people. Kayla’s public witness seeks equity over equality, justice over fairness, and aesthetics over beauty. She loves cooking anything from scratch, hiking with her partner, and experimenting in ever-elusive urban gardening.