What Will the Future Look Like?

By: Tobi Fleck

Image Description: A Photo of Tobi Fleck’s eye (with glasses) & smile and the ELM logo with the words: Future Church

Dear Church, I’m the young adult you say you want. And I’ve got to admit this: Church, after waiting 18 months for a call because I’m queer, you came so damn close to losing me. I know that the Church as she is, is dying and that something new is being reborn. 

So what do I think the Future Church looks like? Honestly, I think it looks like the mission congregation I’m serving today: The Dwelling, Winston-Salem. At The Dwelling we’re focused on two main things: the sacraments and living into God’s active story among our community. 

The entire life of The Dwelling is centered in the sacraments. In addition to gathering together every week for a service of Holy Communion, we also eat together. A lot. We’re working on being able to host community meals every Sunday- and we’re halfway there. We gather together not only to receive grace through the meal of the eucharist, but to receive grace through communion with each other. 

As a community, we celebrate baptisms, welcoming sisters, brothers, and siblings into the community of faith. And twice a week, The Dwelling’s mobile Shower Trailer rolls out. Our shower trailer is a way that we can share God’s gift of water, and the cleansing, healing properties of water, with our community of folks experiencing homelessness. There are no boundaries around who can shower- if someone wants one, they can get one. 

The Dwelling also focuses on finding God active in our community today. No one is barred from entering God’s church at The Dwelling, and we have several folks in active addiction and various levels of recovery. Our leadership team is made up of folks currently experiencing homelessness and folks who have experienced homelessness, but are currently housed. There are no barriers to our leadership team. If someone wants to serve, then The Dwelling finds a place for them to serve. 

This type of community- one that focuses not on the brokenness the world names, but on the Belovedness that God names, is the future of the Church. It is a place that acknowledges all are at least a bit broken, and no one has all the answers. It’s a place where folks, even marginalized folks, are leaders of ministry and not solely guests to ministry. It’s a place that listens to the movement of the Holy Spirit and finds ways to join in her dance. 

So Church, what will the future look like? My bets are on this.

 

Rev. Tobi Fleck (they/them) currently serves as the associate pastor at The Dwelling, Winston-Salem, a faith community primarily for people who have or are currently experiencing homelessness. In their free time, they enjoy playing games with friends, reading young adult fiction, and spending time out in creation.

 

This Is Me

by Rev. Analyse Triolo

I love a good musical. Growing up, I was the quintessential theatre nerd: I ate, slept, and breathed theatre for many, many years. I first became aware of racism and the complexities of my multiethnic identity while watching West Side Story — not understanding, as a 7-year-old, why half of my identity was considered good and the other half bad. I fought for the opportunity to see the upcoming RENT film when complimentary movie tickets were donated to local schools in the area. I even had a conversation with Adam Pascal, star of RENT on Broadway and film, that made a huge impact on me while I worked on the youth production of the show. I first learned to waltz in Cinderella and would go on to compete in ballroom dance two years later. My life belonged to the arts and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I loved Broadway and anything Broadway adjacent. If I’m being honest with myself I still do, though my tastes have varied as I’ve gotten older. 

Image Description: A Photo of Rev. Analyse Triolo with words on a pink background that state, ” ‘This is Me’ was an anthem, not just for the group of outcasts that were singing the words, but it’s an anthem for queer outcasts everywhere. It’s been one of the anthems of my ministry since before I heard the first note.”

In spite of that I never saw The Greatest Showman until I was quarantined in the parsonage in Queens, NY. I was afraid that the hype would only lead to disappointment, and at that point in my life, disappointment was something I had in spades. I watched, mesmerized, recognizing lifts I’d done in my own ballroom routines present in the film’s choreography. When I heard Broadway actress Keala Settle perform “This is Me” I wept. A lot. The song was an anthem, not just for the group of outcasts that were singing the words, but it’s an anthem for queer outcasts everywhere. It’s been one of the anthems of my ministry since before I heard the first note.

I am not a stranger to the dark

Hide away, they say

‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts

I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars

Run away, they say

No one’ll love you as you are

Ministry has come dangerously close to breaking me several times over the last decade as I coped with my Mom’s cancer diagnosis and passing, a grueling and often demeaning call process, and then finally beginning ministry five weeks prior to finding myself within 5 minutes of the first Coronavirus Epicenter. 

I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

I’ve had to fight my entire life. It’s not uncommon for the women in my family, it turns out. I had to fight in my first middle school because I wasn’t white enough, and again in my second school when I was not Hispanic enough. I’ve had to fight bisexual erasure, informing people that it isn’t just a phase. I’ve had to battle my own perceptions of what being bisexual enough even meant. I still do.

And I know that I deserve your love

There’s nothing I’m not worthy of

Let me tell you, walking into the 2019 Churchwide Assembly felt like how I imagine Lettie Lutz and the rest of the performers walking into that reception at the start of the song. I was armed with rage fueled by years of rejection, heartbreak, and silencers that spoke louder than any words could’ve. It’s what had brought me there with a singular goal of sharing my story publicly, and to do one of the boldest things I’ve ever done in my life at the end of the Assembly’s first plenary session. I tracked down the newly elected Bishop of my assigned synod, introduced myself, and politely informed him I hadn’t heard from his office in six months. Two weeks after the conclusion of my time in Milwaukee I had an apology from the Synod and paperwork for the church that would eventually call me. 

I suspect I’ll be fighting for the rest of my life in one way or another. Fighting to face my own demons. Fighting to love the messy parts of myself I often try to hide. And fighting to leave this world better than I found it for those who come after me. I haven’t had the easiest journey, but I haven’t had the hardest one either, and I take pride in doing the work.

This is me.


Rev. Analyse Triolo (she/her) is a year and a half into the wild adventure of Pandemic Pastoring in the mystical land of Queens, NY. In her spare time, she enjoys reading comics, Greek Mythology, and planning out her bi-furious half-elven rogue (Tiefling Rogue? She can’t decide…) for her next D&D Campaign. She also loves singing showtunes so loud her neighbors can hear. Analyse multi-classed as a Master of Divinity while at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and as a Master of Arts in Ministry at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Roll for initiative!

 


UPCOMING EVENT – THIS SATURDAY

Click Here for the PDF version of the flyer


 

POSE!

By: Kelsey Brown

There are not many places in the world made for Black Queer folks

As June rolls around I see the pride advertisements pop up like a field of dandelions 

A sea of white

That’s not to say that Black folks have been absent from the movement for LGBTQIA+ equality  

In fact, we would not have Pride, or a reason to celebrate without the risks taken by Black and Latino Trans Women from San Francisco to Stonewall 

But being Black and being Queer have never been something I’ve taken for granted 

I stand on the shoulders of these powerhouse people who made a way long before I was even a twinkle in my mothers’ eye.

Image Description: Grayscale image of Kelsey Brown with arms outstretched, with the words, “Because we were left out of the publicized Gay rights movement, we created our own spaces where freedom, fluidity and fashions reigned supreme.” Photo Credit: Emily Ann Garcia

Because we were left out of the publicized Gay rights movement, we created our own spaces where freedom, fluidity and fashions reigned supreme. 

Ballroom and the culture surrounding it transforms the lives of all who encounter it 

It’s so much more than “Yass Queen” and “Spilling the tea” 

It’s a safe space where the outcast and turned away are welcomed into a new family, one that uplifts and affirms 

Houses become safe havens and strangers become inseparable 

Now don’t get me wrong 

Going to a ball is an extravagant affair 

And walking the floor in the hopes of securing a trophy for your house is an honor 

But the joy that permeates the room is so much more than rainbow capitalism or a “show” 

It’s a battle – it’s a place to say “look at me” in a world that would shove us back into the closet – out of sight out of mind. 

Shows like Pose on FX and Legendary on HBO Max have provided the world an insider look into the Ballroom scene and has given the “children” an education of sorts on the before, during and after of a still wildly active community of misfits. 

These shows pull back the curtain on the lives of the underrepresented – 

in Ballroom trans women are idolized, not ostracized. 

Houseless folks are taken in and given place and purpose. 

The different become the divas and the function doesn’t stop for anything

We leave it all on the floor

Pride month can be difficult for a variety of reasons 

We’re all just trying to find our place 

Use our voices 

Celebrate

Especially after the year and a half we’ve had 

But my call to you dear friends is to remember the reason why this celebration exists in the first place 

Because of injustice, because of police brutality 

Our ancestors took bricks 

Broke windows 

Disobeyed 

And fought back 

So that we could dance in the streets

So, we could leave our broken relationships and find our chosen family 

So that even after they were gone 

We could live 

So, get out there friends – 

LIVE 

WORK 

POSE! 

May the joy and opulence found in ballroom inspire you this pride season to be your most authentic self. To take up ALL the space and to, when things get tough – leave it on the floor.  


Rev. Kelsey Brown (she/her) describes herself as sometimes funny, very queer, frequently anxious, and completely absurd. A 20-something hailing from Long Island, New York – she comes equipped with the accent & attitude to back it up. In her free time, she is falling back in love with spoken word poetry, breaking it down on the dance floor, and ritual creation. She believes with her full heart that God’s delight in diversity is call for us all to embrace the fullness of humanity. Racial justice and advocacy work fuel her fire, while deep friendships and long naps quench her thirst. She can be seen in her natural habitat – quoting showtunes, doubled over in laughter and challenging others to “do the work.” Her ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has taken many courses including camping ministry in New Jersey, Synod work in Metro New York and Internship in sunny Southern California. She is blessed to serve as the Pastor of Jehu’s Table, a Lutheran Church in Brooklyn – Pastor Kelsey brings to the Church a pulse of integrity and personhood for all people, a love of preaching and deep care for the other.


UPCOMING EVENT

 

Click Here to view full event flyer


 

The Sacred and the Secular, Both/And

 

by Alex Aivars

Image Description: An Image of Kesha with praying hands on a gray background.

I always love when pop music uses Christian imagery. One song that has stood out in recent years is Kesha’s “Raising Hell.” In the song, Kesha does an amazing job of blending the sacred and secular, using Christian slang to describe secular things, and vice versa. 

“Hands up, witness”

When I’ve heard a favorite song in worship, I’ve raised my hands in praise. When I’ve heard a great song when I’m out dancing at a bar, I’ve raised my hands in appreciation. I’ve witnessed the Holy Spirit in both places. 

“Solo cup full of holy spirits”

At the church I serve, we use wine and grape juice in a cup during communion to signify the blood of Jesus during our worship services on Sunday mornings. Before seminary, either at a party or at a bar, while holding a cup of alcohol, I would have many conversations about God. These conversations helped affirm my calling to be a pastor. Both were and are holy moments. 

“No walk of shame ’cause I love this dress

Image Description: A grayscale photo of Kesha on a black background with the words, “I love this blending of the sacred and secular, using words from each world interchangeably because it reflects my own sense of self.” – Alex Aivars

I love this blending of the sacred and secular, using words from each world interchangeably because it reflects my own sense of self. This speaks to me as a gay Christian. I’ve been told I should be ashamed of my sexuality. I’ve been told my love does not belong in the sacred world. I’ve been told I can’t be a Christian and gay. I’ve been told I can’t be a pastor and gay. But, I have found my sexuality to be holy and good. The Holy Spirit has shown itself in my life, time and time again. I can be both Christian and gay. There is the divine in my love. Yes, I’m #blessed. 

“But I don’t wanna go to Heaven without raisin’ hell”

Jesus raised hell while on earth, flipping tables and sparring with the religious authorities. Jesus was, in fact, the perfect mixing of the sacred and secular, the holy and profane. In Jesus, a profane human contained sacred God. In fact, the two were so well mixed, that you couldn’t parse out which part was secular and which part was sacred. Jesus was both holy and profane, secular and sacred.

“This is our salvation”

After raising hell on earth, Jesus was then raised from hell, from the dead, to new life in heaven. God in Jesus saved us from death, so that we could share in holy, sacred, eternal life. Thanks be to God.


Alex Aivars (he/him) is currently in his first call as pastor of  St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Lansing, MI. Since this is a part-time call, he also develops websites for businesses, non-profits, and other churches. In his spare time he likes to read, hike, bike, ski, and make art out of post-in notes.

A Spark of Flaming Love

By: Anders Nelson

 

Image Description: A grayscale image of Dolly Parton on a Black background with the words, “fire ignites one’s whole being unapologetically for the sake of discovering the deeper truths held deep inside that only this fire can stir up.”

Fire doesn’t mix well with most things, nor does fire do well at listening to those who attempt to control it. It consumes, it harms, it destroys. 

Yet Dolly Parton knows what it means to feel fire inside you and relish every moment of it. 

For her, fire is not so much a force of destruction but the spark of beauty, the ignition of love, a burning sign of vibrant truth and deep joy. This fire ignites one’s whole being unapologetically for the sake of discovering the deeper truths held deep inside that only this fire can stir up. In a very similar way, the Holy Spirit (in all of her mysterious ways) inspires and ignites us individually and as the whole church to do the work of seeking beauty, love, truth, and joy in ourselves, each other, and our Creator. But despite the hard work of the Spirit, we might find ourselves attempting to put out these fires.

Growing up, wrestling with my queer identity felt like trying to hide a bonfire in the middle of a room full of my family and friends: nobody was willing to call it out and eventually I reached a point where I couldn’t sit there looking at it without saying something. “Hey! Have you all seen this? This is real and this is good. Okay? Okay.”

There’s liberation in seeing those flames as wholly good and not out to burn our lives to the ground. In fact, they might just inspire us towards burning down the things in our lives and our world that need to be burned down. Such discernment and reflection is necessary for the sake of the life of the church alongside the work of queer liberation. And if nothing else, this fire might inspire us to put on some drag, dance in our seminary’s chapel, and truly show the world what it’s all about.

This red hot emotion

Puts fireworks in motion

It looks like the 4th of July

There's no use in fighting

This fire you've ignited

Just stand back and watch the sparks fly

As the season of Pentecost approaches, may the revelatory sparks fly for you as they have for me. May the movement of Deep Wisdom stir up in you some meaningful, revelatory moments. And above all, may the flaming Spirit be with us until we’re all shouting, “Baby, I’m Burnin’!”

 


Anders Nelson (he/him) is the associate pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wheaton, Illinois where he’s been serving since the very beginning of the pandemic. He’s subsisted the last year mainly on learning how tasty vegetarian cooking can be, singing hymns and broadway numbers in the shower, and scheduling as many Dungeons and Dragons sessions as possible. 



 

“God Made All This”

By: Deacon Ross Murray

My husband and I imposed a strict routine during quarantine. Some might say that we went monastic, with a rhythm of activity and rest.  We were so concerned about COVID-19, the only way we’d meet up with friends was in the park. We’d lay out a blanket, and sit in the shade, talking, eating and drinking. We scheduled three daily walks in our neighborhood, visiting the two closest parks on a daily basis, with the occasional further walks to other parks in our area.

During our daily walks through the parks near our home, we closely observed the life of the plants in the park. In the spring (two springs now), we eagerly awaited the appearance of crocuses, then daffodils, then tulips. Before we knew it, we were seeing the full bloom of purple, pink, yellow, before everything eventually settled into a luscious green for the summer. We watched the process reverse in the fall, seeing leaves start to turn the golden yellows, oranges, and browns, before noticing that the trees were bare for the winter again. And during winter, we watched the positioning of the sun, looking for hints that spring might be returning again.

Had I been rushing to work, there is no way I could have noticed the tiny hints that told me that the seasons were progressing, instead only noticing macro changes well after they were underway. Our continued return to the park, coupled with a hope for what was coming, made my eyes observant. 

Now that our world is opening back up a little more, I am worried that I’ll return to my old routine of rushing places without ever observing what is happening around me. I think of that for all of us. How can we keep a faithful recognition of the beauty of God’s creation all around us? How do we recognize the hints and signs that God is constantly doing a new thing in the world around us…and in our lives? 

One way that I’ve done that is through The Naming Project, an LGBTQ-youth ministry and summer camp. Church camps have easily incorporated God’s creation into their communities and programming. At The Naming Project, campers walk among the trees, play on the grass, get bitten by the bugs, and swim in the lake. Even when the focus isn’t on nature, it’s infused into what the program is about. 

The message we are trying to send to the young LGBTQIA+ people is to challenge them to look around and see what God is doing around them. We try to convey, “God made all this,” along with the message, “God made you too.”

Image Description: a smiling child*, Lewis Eggleston, on an airplane ride with the words-LGBTQIA+ youth are a part of God’s creation, just as much as the lakes, trees, and rocks, and they need to be reminded of that reality. God’s creation isn’t just “out there” but also inside each one of us. -Ross Murray *We have permission to use this image.

LGBTQIA+ youth are a part of God’s creation, just as much as the lakes, trees, and rocks, and they need to be reminded of that reality. God’s creation isn’t just “out there” but also inside each one of us. These two realities cannot be separated from each other, even though humankind has often favored one over the other.

Just as I observed the changing of the leaves, I get the joy to witness young people grow into who God made them to be, maturing and changing over time. I think this is just as awesome as the sight of the first crocuses in the spring. I write in Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry that with some careful observance, and some nurturing, we all can see how young people are sending forth tentative shoots that will give us glimpse of who they are becoming. 

Creation is both the natural world around us and the people God has placed in our lives. Let’s tend to God’s creation, making intentional choices that demonstrate we think about a future for God’s creation. And let’s take time to stop and notice the hints about what God is about to do next in the world. 


Deacon Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute. Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies. Ross contributed to two books focused on LGBTQ Christian youth: Queerfully and Wonderfully Made and Welcoming and Affirming. His forthcoming book, Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry comes out in April 2021. Finally, Ross is a producer for the “Yass, Jesus!” podcast, a faith and sexuality affirming podcast that believes you don’t have to pick between gay and God.  He lives in New York City with his husband, Richard Garnett. 

Holy Fools: Insufficiency and A Resurrection Story

By John M. Brett

 

Image Description: photo of Proclaimers washing feet- with the words-I have discovered that when I am called in fellowship to show up, I do, and that’s something I have in common with the women in my family. I don’t feel foolish about it. -John

I believed the women in my family thought Christianity meant serving cookies. My grandmother and my mother were quick to show up when they were called to do so by the church’s Fellowship Team. For one month each year, for four or even five Sundays, they dutifully and enthusiastically provided sugary treats in between our congregation’s two services. They delighted to pour coffee and fruit punch with a smile and a side of small talk, along with morning pastries. Then Grandma and Mom disappeared for the rest of the year, unless called upon again to serve as greeters. All in all, they did their part, and attended as a family for Christmas and for Easter. They showed up to church when asked. It was their way. Nevertheless, I, so quick to judge, thought them foolish. I thought their brand of Christianity insufficient.

Eager, earnest, as I grew up I sought religious and spiritual meaning, though it mostly escaped me, as the ineffable tends to do. Just like many other eager, earnest, and seemingly able-bodied, tall young men, elder members of my congregation encouraged me to go to seminary. It was an invitation I considered, and even felt called to accept, though I demurred. However self-delusional I may have been, I also knew I was gay, and even a little bit queer. My church had no gumption to support such a candidate for ministry, and I knew it. I was not so foolish as to accept their entreaties. The church’s brand of Christianity I suspected insufficient.

Yet, somewhere in the laughter of my heart, which beats with its own kind of power, I listened to another way. After years and years of a journey’s seeking, I did finally go to seminary. The walk has been and continues to be halting, laborious. It is my own faith I too often find faulty. Only fools rush in, I’ve told myself, as I have wondered if I am trustworthy for the call. Thanks to the church, and the teachings from which the church itself now begins to heal, I’m prone to judge my own queer self insufficient.

The sociable smiles of my grandmother and mother perhaps offered more trustworthy instruction, and more clearly so, than the church once did. When people expressed a need, my family’s women showed up. Women of perseverance who, like all of us, faced hardships, alcoholism and the death of children amongst them, I imagine they needed a bigger God than the church was ready to provide. They found God elsewhere most of the time, and found a way to smile anyway while serving cookies. We each needed a church not so small-minded as to judge anyone insufficient.

I lament on this Holy Week, this April Fools, that I was once the foolish one. What the church taught, I believed. I judged others; I judged myself. I left no judgment to God alone. Thankfully, I now embrace another foolishness entirely, and so does my church. As 2021 began, my baptismal congregation, Grace Lutheran–Wenatchee, WA, became a Reconciling-In-Christ congregation, affirming the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people. Easter came early this year, for it was a long awaited resurrection. My heart now laughs with a powerful delight that tastes like fellowship, with cookies at the ready.

As I prepare to lay my grandmother to rest on Holy Saturday, to say my goodbyes, my mother’s death waits not long behind. When the pallbearers carry my grandmother to her interment, I will read a poem of my crafting in her honor, an exploration of her faith life that had little to do with the church’s liturgies. I will bless her brand of spiritual witness, as I continue to envision and live out my pastoral work with the queer community of San Francisco. I have discovered that when I am called in fellowship to show up, I do, and that’s something I have in common with the women in my family. I don’t feel foolish about it.

“and everyone calls me

an old name

as i follow out

laughing like God’s fool

behind this Jesus”

from “the calling of the disciples” by lucille clifton


John (he/hym/hys) grew up on a wheat farm in North Central Washington State, far from his current home in metropolitan San Francisco. He’s a seminarian and works as LGBTQIA+ Program Director and as a chaplain with San Francisco Night Ministry <https://sfnightministry.org> alongside the city’s unhoused folk, and the street and LGBTQIA+ communities. He’s also a proud oblate with The Companions of Dorothy the Worker. <https://www.companionsofdorothy.org>  Prior to seminary, John completed his BA in Spanish and Performance Studies at Dartmouth College and served as the Executive Director of a regional legal aid program in Washington State. His favorite ministry experience to date involves offering spiritual care while in drag at a taco truck. Watch for the launch of Drag Church–San Francisco and the National Drag Church Network later this year.

Hosanna!

By: Rev. Laura Kuntz

Hosanna! Within this word exists many possibilities. We hear this word shouted from the crowds as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Within this word we hear the cries of the people who needed Jesus to save them. We also hear it as a word of praise as people place their trust in where Jesus is headed. Within our worship reflect these means within this one word alongside thousands of other words used to express our heart to God. 

We debate about what words we use very strongly. Words are important, but the meaning behind them and the actions behind them make them real. We can and should embrace the words we need to use to describe our experience. We can claim the word queer as part of our identity even though it was once used against us. We can use a person’s correct pronouns and validate their whole selves. We can name the sins of homophobia, white supremacy, and patriarchy. 

This year on Palm Sunday as I say Hosanna, I’m praying for God to save us. To save our world from the racism that keeps all people from experiencing the kin-dom of God. To save us from this pandemic that has disrupted the lives of many and harmed the most vulnerable. To save us from feeling hopeless when we aren’t optimistic about the future. I’ll also seek comfort in that same word and use it to praise God because I believe God is working on our world. When we feel defeated by what is going on in our lives and in the world we know God is there. God is listening. 

God hears our cries and knows our struggles. Despite the ways we seem to habitually mess things up, God believes that the whole world is worthy of love. God came to earth because of this love. To preach, teach, and heal because we are God’s beloved. We can call out to God in whatever way we need and God is there. We can remind each other of this love when we don’t feel it ourselves. It has been with us in past struggles and will be present into the unknown of the future.

 

Hosanna in the highest,

We cry to you for help with such a great list of needs. Can you handle them all? Is there an end in sight to a pandemic, and all the injustice in our world? 

Hear our cries, our questions, our concerns. 

Help us to remember your promise to be with us. 

We ask that we could feel your presence in our world. 

Save us from both ourselves and the injustices of this world. Help us to see your kin-dom. 

Amen. 


The Rev. Laura Kuntz (she/her/hers) is serving as interim pastor and lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her wife and two dogs. Something that brings her joy is being a part of the Buy Nothing Project in her neighborhood, where people give to their neighbors out of their abundance. Her favorite items she has received were a small Ikea greenhouse and a box of old trophies she used to make a hat hanger for a friend. She loves to give away plants and anything that someone has a need for.

Disobediently Devoted

By: Melissa May

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way/ To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey…

When I hear people gleefully singing this hymn, I know I’m theologically not in for a great time.

It’s not that I don’t delight in God’s counsel or in being carried by the wind of the Holy Spirit—far from it! But associating obedience with my relationship with God gets me cringing. It feels like you can’t question authority or dialogue with the divine. And that’s inauthentic to my experience.

When God has called upon me to trust in the divine, it seems to be when I’m most broken down: hiding behind a seminary chapel in grief over interpersonal turmoil; questioning the label of my sexuality; dejectedly wondering how long I would have to hold my tongue around homophobic leaders; having an emotional breakdown in a GMC Yukon in the Arctic hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, after the local teens tell me during our icebreaker-youth-group game how many illegal drugs they have tried. 

The Spirit is there in my stubbornness and anguish, in my impatience and self-sabotage. Being “happy in Jesus,” as the song says, is about experiencing the freedom of abiding in Christ’s way, in the law of God’s love.

The writer of Jeremiah proclaims the new covenant which the LORD will make with the house of Israel, and God will put God’s law within us and “will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).  

We’ve been unchained from sin, and unfettered from the power of the Law, and that’s the Gospel truth.  And yet paradoxically, with divine law etched within us, we can freely sing to God with the psalmist: “‘With my whole heart I seek you” (Psalm 119:10) and “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (119:16).

My obedience looks a lot like sullen protest and ugly crying, especially at first. But as I recognize the presence of God—who did not abandon me behind the chapel, in toxic heteronormativity, or on the lonely tundra—that trust becomes more like the grace of peace in the pain. And for me, “there’s no other way.”


Melissa May (she/her) is the daughter of a pastor and a youth director, and grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She attended Susquehanna University and Gettysburg (United) Seminary, where she earned an M.Div. but confused everyone by going into diaconal ministry. For four years, Melissa served as a curriculum writer, volunteer coordinator, and Bible Camp teacher with On Eagle’s Wings Ecumenical Ministries in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Canada. Discerning a call to change to congregational-based ministry, she became ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament and served at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Nome, Alaska. Melissa is on leave from call, but celebrates new developments: she recently joined the Proclaim Community, and this is her first public declaration of being a queer child of God!

 

Getting Back to “Normal”

by Rev. Carla Christopher-Wilson

The story in Numbers that this week’s John passage references in passing is actually a striking one. The Israelites are struggling along a meandering desert path, riddled with anxiety. There are venomous snakes all around, called up by the Israelites in their agitation over the discomfort of their journey. The desert wanderers are being bitten, some are writhing in pain. God could shorten their journey, bring the Israelites to a snake-free land of milk and honey. God could just get rid of all the snakes. That would solve the problem as well. Instead, God calls Moses to make a bronze serpent that those who look upon it will be healed. 

Why does this matter? Because there is a lesson in being forced to look upon the thing that we caused, that we called up, that we wildly underestimated in our short-sighted and selfish vision. We must confront our demons and look them in the eyes before we can truly see where we went wrong and start to make it right. Whew. Uncomfortable. Harsh even, for a God of endless love and mercy. In looking our viper in the eye, though, we can find the difference between avoidance and the possibility of true healing.

Vaccines are beginning to roll out. Infection rates are finally starting to go down in many states. Warmer weather  is coming. A new president and many local politicians are in office who are flying rainbow flags and issuing executive orders against discrimination. How tempting, how easy it would be to say “let’s get back to ‘normal'”. “Normal” here in Pennsylvania was the ability to be fired from my job or evicted from my housing because of my sexual orientation. It was medical care and civic offices and school districts and yes, churches, visiting inexcusable ignorance or active harm upon LGBTQIA+ people as well as Black and brown and disabled people. It was relentless productivity and chronic exhaustion. Like the slavery in Egypt, it was nothing to go back to just because recent times have been excessively difficult.

If you are tempted in this season, exhausted by months of racial conflict, LGBTQIA+ assault, the oppression of immigrants, and the exploitation of the poor, to simply stop looking, I beg you to reconsider. A desire to forget did not serve our Israelite siblings. They could not be healed until they looked into the face of their communal sin. Practice self-care. Steep yourself in that which strengthens your spirit. Rest for a time. Then get back up and continue this necessary and restorative journey toward justice. Those who cannot see the broken and marginalized body of Christ, who cannot bear to look upon it, are lost. Those who refuse to look away are healed…and able to see that body resurrected. Easter is coming, beloveds. Keep striving with me so that we don’t miss it.

Jesus of fierce advocacy born of endless compassion, give us courage to stand alongside our siblings in times of need and not turn away from the ugliness of oppression for the sake of comfort. Inspire us and sustain us that we may survive this wilderness and root out our own bias and internalized pain, so that we can look upon you and experience all the love you embody. In your holy name we pray, Amen.


The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson (she/her) serves as Associate Pastor of Faith Formation and Outreach for Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Lancaster, PA and Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod. A former Poet Laureate who still moonlights with a funk fusion band, Carla lives to spread the artist-activist gospel of cultural competency.