ELM Lenten Blog by Wylie

Growing up, Lent was always a time of guilt and shame. Guilt to give things up, guilt of my despicable ‘sins’ (although they were not really sin), shame if I misstepped, shame if I did not confess it all, shame if I did not make Lent a time of bearing even heavier burdens.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Lent! It is a time of intentionality, a time when we get another chance to live in the way of Jesus. To give alms, fast from things that take our attention away from God and our neighbors, and grow in a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Triune God through prayer.

If we are being honest with ourselves, it seems like waking up in the morning is enough work as it is. Trying to balance family, vocation, and our own wholeness is a full-time job on top of a full-time job. We are carrying burdens in our everyday lives, and sometimes it feels like adding Lent will break the camel’s back.

I was recently pondering how people in the Bible find their faces and bodies on the ground when they encounter God. Complete surrender to the awe and majesty of God. Sounds like classic Lent to me.

However, I have a question: how can we fall on our faces for God when the world already has us in the dirt, maybe even halfway to 6 feet under? When trans* people are simply trying to live as the people God has created them to be, why do we have to go to the feet of Jesus when we are already there?

Classic Lent works for some and I think we are beginning to realize (thank God!) that Lent in the year 2023 for marginalized communities can feel like another millstone on our already vulnerable, despised, and rejected bodies. The last thing we need is for God to play our society’s game of oppression.

As a pastor who serves a congregation of people on the margins (trans* and nonbinary folx, people of color, people with disabilities, kids, hourly wage workers, seniors with serious health conditions, folx in recovery, folx who are just trying to stay alive, folx who struggle with trauma and addiction), Classic Lent does not work. Maybe, just maybe, throwing ourselves at Jesus’s feet is too much, too much relinquishing of power and self-depreciation. 

So for this Lent, I am not uniformly telling my people and this world that they need to suffer more. Instead, I am suggesting we sit in God’s lap instead of laying at Their feet. There is still a reverence and awe of God’s power, there is still a submission to God’s will and way for our lives. But sitting in God’s lap is something we can actually do and I actually want to do. When we sit in God’s lap, especially with despised and rejected bodies, we are held by God even as we march through Lent. We are surrounded and affirmed in our bodies even as we are called to take up our cross. We are not taking the easy way out. Rather, God is meeting us where we are. Is that not what Lent is all about? So whether we find ourselves prostrated in the dirt or find our needed security and safety in God’s lap, we will return to dust just the same. And we will resurrect just the same. Welcome to Lent.

Gracious God, we give you thanks for the gift of our Lenten journey. We know you journey with us and meet us where we are. May we find comfort and discipline in being held in your lap, as we kneel, and as we lay in the dirt. Surround us with your grace as we journey to the cross. For you have not abandoned nor forsaken us thus far. We ask all of these things in the name of Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.

Wylie (they, them) is the Pastor at House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO. They love to travel, visit with family and friends across the country, work out, and take long walks with their two chihuahua mixes, Cosmo and T.

ELM Blog-Love in Action: Rev. Carla Christopher

My work with and for the church largely consists of training rostered leaders in areas relating to DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging). It started as a starry-eyed and grateful seminarian joining our synod’s Racial Justice Task Force because Black Lutherans with a history in curriculum development are a rare unicorn in central Pennsylvania. That work branched out in just a few years to include LGBTQIA2S+ trainings and then supporting unhoused and formerly unhoused people and Mental Health/Trauma/Survivor support ministry. It turns out I have a lot of marginalizations many of us experience in ourselves or our families, but very few people feel safe talking or teaching about in congregational spaces.

I get it. I exist AS an intersection. A multi-ethnic Black woman (Black, Romani, Spanish, English, Jewish and Creole). Gendered female at birth with a condition eventually diagnosed as severe Polycystic Ovarian Disorder that flooded my system at puberty with Testosterone and Androgen, virilizing (generally considered masc) hormones. Doctors were mystified when a waifish dancer developed bulked-out shoulders, a shy mustache and shot up 6 inches in height. That traumatic gauntlet known as middle school dances became the burning sands of raised eyebrows and mocking smirks. In virtually every space I still enter, I am the Black woman not dark enough to look safe to other Black people, the brown woman too swarthy to belong at the covered dish potluck. I was born Jewish and raised Episcopalian, not Lutheran or “catch the Spirit Pentecostal”. Explaining my attraction to nontoxic masculinity that most frequently manifests in those gendered female at birth is a tough explanation even in most queer spaces. I still twitch answering unknown phone numbers or being in a space where I can’t easily locate an exit, thanks to my status as a survivor. Sticking out is hard. It makes me a complicated person to quantify with checkboxes. It also makes me an empathetic, compassionate, tender pastor and listener for countless people who don’t feel safe or welcome in certain spaces.

In Romans 12:4-5 we read that there are many members of the body of Christ, each with their own function. A thousand hearts without minds, without hands, without a nice cleaning liver to take out the trash, cannot survive. A straight, cis, white Lutheran denomination filled with very “nice” people was a culture and a lifestyle…and an utterly unsustainable model for church in a changing world. A cis, white, Lutheran community of LGBTQIA2S+ people had only slightly more staying power. This internet-driven society of instant access to other countries, cultures, ways of life and language makes almost immediately obvious those spaces equipped to carry a global message, and those woefully underprepared. 

When I first began to dream and ponder this blog, it was a call-out of the racism that exists even in queer groups, the socio-economic barriers and lack of trauma-informed care that characterize too many of our dubbed inclusive spaces. I bless and release that dwelling in anything less than my own necessary and splendid divinity. One of the most powerful spirits in the Creole tradition is Papa Legba, Lord of the Crossroads. He is often associated with St. Peter, the rock upon which the church is built. At his belt jingle a set of keys, symbols of the pastoral order and access to the many gateways towards spiritual evolution and life progress. Without honoring the crossroads there is no travel, no growth. You. Need. Me. Church. You need us, all of us who rest against our canes and crutches, dressed in rags, and possess deep magic of guidance and understanding from having journeyed on roads not traveled by most now realizing they require passage. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”  The words of earthy saint, Walt Whitman. I claim space with my siblings at the intersections as gifts and guides, outsiders no more.

For the record, I have scrapped most of my former trainings and elaborate curriculums. I teach about the principles of trauma-informed care first and how to apply them to different groups last. 1) Safety. 2) Trustworthiness and Transparency. 3) Peer Support. 4) Collaboration and Mutuality. 5) Empowerment, Voice and Choice. 6) Cultural History and Issues Specific to Marginalized Groups. There is room for boxes that overlap in caring and respectful spaces honoring an individual’s experience as pilgrim beyond a single affinity group. May the new church that emerges from the ash Jesus shakes from their feet hold space for meaningful collaboration and empowerment of the other parts of Jesus’ body. We will ALL be stronger for it.
Rev. Carla Christopher (she/hers) is a Proclaim Chaplain, pastor of an Open and Affirming UCC congregation, and also serves as Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries in Lower Susquehanna Synod/Central Pennsylvania (land of the Susquehannock).

ELM Blog- Love in Action: John M. Brett

A ministry of intersections

We begin at the intersection of 18th & Castro. We gather on that most sacred corner, an epicenter of memory, of protest, of witness, of love. Sometimes called Hibernia Beach, sometimes called the community shrine, generations of queer community members have been memorialized there; there we recognize individual deaths & community losses, whether during the height of the AIDS epidemic or more recently with actions honoring those fallen at Pulse & other massacres. We begin each Drag Eucharist with these ancestors, & we return each Ash Wednesday too. Across the street, we gathered to close Harvey’s, the site of the raid of the Elephant Walk bar, along with elders present for the White Night Riots & the retaliatory aftermath. At 20th & South Van Ness, the Fiesta Laundromat’s lights beckon 24 hours a day. On the last Wednesday of each month, I help feed quarters into the machines for Free Laundry Day, a day of mutual aid coordinated by Rad Mission Neighbors. Organized with a special emphasis on solidarity with sex workers, we wash clothes for all who show up each month. From our unhoused & marginally housed neighbors to those simply needing to stretch their dollars before their next check, together we wait out the cycles of wash & dry with snacks. The machines purr & whirl, their clicks & buzzers a mechanical meditation on socio-economic inequality. I say hello to returning & new faces as I continue becoming part of the community fabric.

At 16th & Mission, at Manny’s, an event space it seems every Democratic hopeful in the country has visited, I tip the drag queens at the Indigiqueer Two Spirit Drag Show. The collared minister in the front row is conspicuous, jokes are made, & a black lacy thong is flung my way by a drag queen I know but haven’t yet seen perform. My dollar bills & Starbucks cards serve insufficiently as reparations from church members who know the spiritual & religious trauma the church has caused. Earlier in the week I met a black trans elder here to share & vision together.

Intersections farther flung across the city remain unnamed. A different mix of people gather & pass through each of them. Some I have visited, & the textures & realities of others remain unknown to me. The City landscape distills, often visibly, ways in which political & social forces, environmental & economic realities, create resonance & dissonance within & between individuals & collectives. Those forces inescapably impact our bodies & the bodies of those we love, our lived realities, the spiritual lives we lead. Redlining. Redevelopment. Relocation. Gentrification. Environmental pollution. These phenomena & others inform how the queer community & intersecting communities may receive accompaniment.

At night, during the day, I leave the confines of the church & I walk. I explore. I remain curious. Sometimes, I stop. I show up in both expected & unexpected places.
John M. Brett (he/hym/hys), ELCA seminarian & street chaplain, serves the SF Night Ministry as Minister of Faithful&Fabulous! & Director of Community Programs, where he offers queer-centric ministry & multifaith programming & accompaniment. Christened IrReverend & High Priest of Fabulous by parishioners, his first on-the-job pastoral care lesson was to remember to tip the drag queens. He leads Drag Street Eucharists around the country & serve on the organizing committee for the now annual Spiritual DragCon.

ELM Blog-Love in Action: Sharei Green

Love at the intersection

Trigger warning: racism, fatphobia, pregnancy complications 

I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying needlessly. I’m afraid of dying from medical professionals not listening to me, of a “routine” traffic stop, some random hate crime just for existing in my body. 

I exist at the intersection of Black, femme, fat, and queer. I love all these things about myself but the world doesn’t always love me back. The dehumanizing of my various identities can be a heavy burden sometimes. Often being reminded of how little the world values my humanity via the media and the stories within community that aren’t televised. 

Last December, my friend, soulmate, and chosen family member, almost died. Almost died because she reported an issue while pregnant and the only thing the medical professionals could focus on was how much weight she’d gained. She was sent away with the instruction not to gain any more weight for the remaining two months of her pregnancy. Within weeks, she was having a hypertensive crisis, diagnosed with preeclampsia, and induced months early. Fatphobia almost killed my friend. Had she not been diligent in listening to her body, researching symptoms, etc. She could have lost her baby. Lost her life. And maybe the outcome would have been the same had they listened. But maybe, just maybe, there would have been better monitoring of the situation, maybe she wouldn’t have had to suffer as long, and maybe she wouldn’t have felt so dehumanized, traumatized. 

In John 12, Mary breaks open an expensive oil at Jesus’ feet and anoints them. The disciples thought she was crazy to “waste” the oil in that way but Jesus basically told them to mind their business.

A variation of this text exists in all 4 Gospels. The consistent thread through all of them is a woman, anointing Jesus’ feet. There is debate on whether it was the same woman in all the text, particularly with the Luke text as the woman was described as sinful when Mary of Bethany was seen as loving/ beloved. Whether it was the same woman or not, sinful or not, named or not. Whether with oil or tears, in all the accounts a woman anointed Jesus… and someone (particularly of the male variety) was upset about it. Whether they considered it a waste of resources because the oil could have been sold or a waste of time because the woman was a sinner and deemed by those present unworthy of Jesus’ time. But what is also consistent through them all is Jesus defending the woman’s actions. Speaking truth to power in honor of the woman who had offered what she had to Christ.

Friends, are we making decisions on behalf of “the poor” to serve our own interests? Are we building a hierarchy of God’s beloveds? Are we stealing from the common purse? Are we stealing from the body of Christ? Or are we anointing Jesus’ feet with our treasures, our time, our talents. Are we speaking against powers that would exclude our neighbor? Ignore her pain?

Jesus told Judas, told his disciples, told those gathered, and told the Pharisees, to leave her alone. Jesus made space for the woman, in a time when it would have been unconventional for a woman to be among men, Jesus said, leave her alone. 

So what does this have to do with love? 

Love in action is more than educating congregations on how to be more friendly to queer folks. It’s bigger than any congregation or the institution of the church. Love in action is caring about our neighbors. Acknowledging their intersections and advocating for them. Advocating for them when no one is looking. When it’s not “sexy” to do so. When it’s not “safe” to do so.
Sharei Green (she/her) is a Womanist theologian currently pursuing her MDiv at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Sharei has a strong commitment to community healing and sabbath, especially in BIPOC communities and all their intersections. She is the co-author of God’s Holy Darkness, a children’s book that deconstructs anti-Blackness in Christian theology by celebrating instances in the story of God’s people when darkness, blackness, and night are beautiful, good, and holy. She serves on staff with ELM as the operations support person.