Queer Scripture Reflections – Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson

 
Image Description: photo of the book of Genesis and the ELM logo with the title: Queer Scripture Reflections.
John 12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)
 
John 13:29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 
 
Obscure and not often quoted scriptures, but ones that grip me when combing the scriptures for evidence of Jesus’ views and experiences of what it meant to be a family as an adult, since earlier in this blog series we explored the beautiful queerness of Jesus’ childhood multi-parent family. 
 
We know that Jesus asked 12 guys to leave behind their families to cleave to him for life using phrases very similar to traditional marriage vows. We know this group lived, ate, traveled, prayed, napped, and attended parties and weddings together. We know Jesus turned to them in fear and grief as his support network. We know they protected each other and were willing to fight for each other and worried about each other. They fought and forgave. They worked extensively at healthy and clear communication. Then there’s these Bible verses.
 
One of this created chosen family is referenced as keeping the common purse for Jesus and all the Disciples, not once, but twice. Not only does this unit of at least mostly same-gendered partners (I only trust pronoun translation so far after 2,000 years but that’s another blog) care for each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually, they are also united financially in a very practical and trusting way.
 
There is no mention in the texts about the Disciples if they were having sex. Nothing says they weren’t, as they traveled together and comforted each other. It’s almost as if intimate partnership could be aromantic, asexual OR romantic or sexual, and to name that as a primary definition of chosen family is of secondary importance. 
 
In short; the Disciples, queer. Beautifully, lovingly, richly, connected. The early church’s first and the New Testament’s most thoroughly documented and central family unit. There is much we can learn from their family/community of care.
 
 

The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson (she/her/hers) is Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod and Associate Pastor of Faith Formation and Outreach for Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. CarlaChristopher.Com and @RevCarlaChristopher on Facebook or @Rev.CarlaChristopher on Instagram.

The Family of Jesus

 

by Alex Aivars

Then the people began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 

– John 6:41-42

 

Image Description: photo of the book of Genesis and the ELM logo with the title: Queer Scripture Reflections.

I’ve been thinking more and more about having kids. My boyfriend and I have had a few conversations about the subject. 

 

A little research brings up a host of options for us. Those options include adoption, surrogacy, foster care, to name a few. 

With all of these options it will mean that for us to have a child and create a family with kids, it will involve more than simply the two of us. There will still always be at least one more person, maybe even more than one, or an organization, or some other type of legal entity, involved in the creation of our family with kids.

I see something similar in the creation of the family of Jesus.

At the conception of Jesus, yes, there were only two entities involved: God and Mary. When Joseph learns of this pregnancy without him, we are told that Joseph is thinking of leaving Mary. But God persuades Joseph to stay and for them to be husband and wife and raise Jesus as their own son.

This solidifies the family of Jesus. Except Jesus didn’t have only two parents, Mary and  Joseph. In the family of Jesus, there were three parents: Mary, Joseph, and God.

God became the third entity in the life and family of Jesus.

Those around Jesus didn’t understand the family structure that included Jesus. Those around him knew Jesus had earthly parents in Mary and Joseph. And yet, here was Jesus talking about coming down from heaven. At one point Jesus even says that he’s the Son of God. This made no sense to them. A person could only have two parents, not three. 

And yet, Jesus did indeed have three parents: Mary, Joseph, and God.

For myself and my boyfriend, the creation of a family with kids involves more than two people. Just like in the creation of the family of Jesus.

In our baptisms, we become part of this family of Jesus. God was, and continues to be, always with Jesus, doting on their son. God is always with us as well, doting on us. Because God will never leave us. All of us will always be children of 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.

 

Letter to Myself: Final Entry

During August & September, members of the Proclaim community (queer seminarian & rostered ministry leaders) will be writing letters to their younger queer selves offering life-lessons, guidance, & support. 

Image Description: Photo of hand-writtern letters and ink pen with the words “Letter to Myself” in the center with the ELM logo, right of center. 


 

Greetings Beloved Community, 

We hope you have enjoyed this blog series on letters to our younger selves. 

Every week thousands of people have interacted with each Proclaimer’s letter, sharing both affirmation & gratitude for the insights Proclaim members provided. The vulnerability and bravery shown by each Proclaim member was truly inspiring which has made us ponder, what you would say to your younger self? 

As the final chapter on this series, we invite you to participate by answering this question: 

What is one piece of advice you would share with your younger self? 

We invite you to share your responses on ELM’s Facebook page, our Instagram page, or even on elm.org as a comment to this blog entry! 

Click the links below to select where you would like to participate. 

Click here to go to the ELM Instagram page! 

Click here for the ELM Facebook Page! 

Thank you for all the ways you have supported queer ministry leaders during this series and throughout the year! 

Letter to Myself: I Can Believe It For You

 (CN: mentions of sexual abuse, naming of abuser)

 

Oh Beloved,

There’s so much I want to tell you, dear one. We’ve had quite the adventure in our almost 30 years on this planet. It’s not been easy, that’s for sure. We’ve had some really, really, rough patches. But I promise you, from where I’m sitting today- things are looking pretty good. No, not everything is perfect- in fact, the world’s pretty messed up. But amidst the chaos of the world, we’re doing pretty good. 

So, here’s the thing, Beloved. I need to set something… well, not straight… Let me rephrase it this way. I need to make something clear to you, Beloved. Are you listening? It’s super important.

What happened to you was not your fault. Your relationship with TJ was an abusive one, from the first day he started grooming you in the library. So, let me repeat it: it was not your fault. It’s gonna take you a long time to come to terms with it, Beloved. First, that it was abuse, and then that you weren’t asking for it. 

Second: he did not break you. I know, Beloved. It’s so hard for you to trust people right now. And you wonder if this weirdness around relationships is something he caused in you- something he took or stole from you. But it’s not, dear one. Think back with me- on some level, you’ve always known you were different. You’ve always seen friendship differently than others. You’ve always loved others- loved in a way that felt different than what others were describing.

Sometimes, it feels like others are speaking a language you didn’t grow up with. One that you’ve picked up (sometimes a little too well), but it’s something you’ve worked hard to learn. There’s a reason for this, dear one. Most of the world was born speaking Allo. You, however, were born speaking A, but learned to communicate in Allo, because that’s what the world spoke. 

This might often feel like a curse, especially as you begin to realize how the differences in the languages permeate seemingly everything. But Beloved, your asexuality- your aromantic nature- these things are gifts. Pure gifts. Yes, you understand relationships through a different context. Your relationships aren’t hierarchical in nature- giving one person emphasis because of some perceived “most important” quality. You love freely and fiercely, and point to the ever overflowing abundant nature of God’s love. 

And the best part, Beloved? You’re not alone. There are other folks out there- just like you. Folks who are nonbinary, folks who are asexual, folks who are on the aromantic spectrum. There are folks who speak A fluently, and it is such a joy when we get to speak together. 

So, My Dear One, know this: you are beloved and holy and whole- just as God made you to be. All of you- the nonbinary, the asexual, the aromantic- God created, They celebrated, and they named Very Good. I know it can be difficult to believe sometimes. Even I struggle with it- still-. But, right now, it’s okay if you can’t believe it. Because I can believe it for you. You will survive. You will find your people. You will thrive. You are not alone- no, you are never alone. You walk with God, and They delight in you.


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.

“Letter to Myself”: Breaking Expectations

By: Joseph Graumann

Dear former self: Queerness and Lutheranism are about liberation. Remember that.

In college, you learned that the “white man in the clouds pulling the strings” didn’t exist. You learned how faith and politics inform each other, and you encountered a daring faith. This faith put grace and justice alongside each other.

You also thought that ministry wasn’t for you, in part because the ELCA didn’t recognize the gifts of out queer leaders. You didn’t fit the expectations for ministry (straight cisgenderedness), though you caught wind that those expectations were about to change. They did.

Beware of a new captivity! Just because “they” let you in the club, don’t think that you have to play by all the unwritten rules. It’s now okay to be gay, but you’re going to hear that queer affirmation is a privilege, not a right. You’re going to be told to be grateful that you’re at the table. This is a starting point; this is not the end.

Broadly speaking, the church still expects its ministers to behave a certain way. We prefer tame clergy, who keep their opinions to themselves and spend their weekend nights reading. Humor is best left to the laity, and some people only care if you’re single so that they can plan that wedding.

Some expectations are good: teaching, preaching, and visiting the sick are part of the gig. So is honesty and integrity, and so is loving your neighbor. But in so many ways, dear baby Joe, you are going to break expectations.

You’re going to be too loud. You’re going to be too opinionated. You’re going to be too casually dressed for this or that event. You may even accidentally bring wine to a Baptist’s installation.

But, as it has been forever, your queerness is an asset. Speaking up makes a difference, especially when people don’t expect it. Being rooted in your self-understanding makes you a better pastor. To be queer is to understand that liberation is at the heart of your life, that morality takes a back seat to identity.

God created you just the way you are. In Baptism, you were made free in Christ. Act like it. Relax. Have fun. Be you.

 


 

The Rev. Joseph Graumann, Jr. (he/him), has been pastor of Saint Stephen Lutheran Church in Marlborough, Massachusetts for five years. He is a native of the Jersey Shore, and he thinks sand in his car is the mark of a summer well spent. Joe is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

 

“Letter to Myself” – Jamie Ulrich

By: Jamie Ulrich

 

Dear younger me,

Hi there, kiddo. 

Right now, you are shy and closeted. You aren’t confident or sure of yourself. You feel like a nobody surrounded by lots of somebodies. You’re trying to figure out who you are in this big, wide world. You don’t want to disappoint anyone. You have high expectations for yourself and the person you want to become. 

But please, dear one, hear this good news: the person you are is exactly the person you should be. You are unique and full of life. You have deep compassion for others. You are deeply loved. And the fact of the matter is, the world needs you. They need your leadership, your passion, and your creative thinking. They need your voice. 

I want you to find comfort in the fact that the Creator has made you just the way you are. That you have been made in the very image of God. That God knit you together in Mom’s womb and that you have been fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Remember: You don’t have to change anything about yourself to conform to what other people need. You don’t have to conform to what society says you should be, or look like, or act like. You have been created by God just the way you are. And the way you are is good. 

I know you have a lot of questions about yourself right now, and that’s okay. One day, you’ll feel comfortable enough to explore those questions and find the answers you seek. One day, you will find peace with yourself and learn to love yourself for who you truly are. I want you to know that someday everything will make sense and everything will be okay.

I’m proud of who you are now and who you’ll become. 

With deep love and gratitude,

Jamie

 


Jamie Ulrich (she/her) is a Candidate for Word and Sacrament Ministry in the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod and is currently studying at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University. She is on internship at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Pickerington, Ohio. In her free time, Jamie enjoys reading fiction, hanging out with her cat, and watching The Great British Baking Show.

Letter to Myself: Impossible Possibilities

By: Chelsea Achterberg

 

Image Description: Photo of hand-writtern letters and ink pen with the words “Letter to Myself” in the center with the ELM logo, right of center. 

The week before this was published I turned 30. A day I didn’t really think would be possible. Not as an ordained pastor. Not married to a wonderful woman. Not serving as an Army Chaplain. Certainly not all of them at once. As I reflect on what I would tell my younger self it is this: the situation now is not how it will always be. You will not always be in a place that feels unsafe to be out. You will not always feel the heartache that your relationship won’t be seen as equal. You will not always wonder if serving in the military or the church openly will ever be possible.

What is impossible is relative. At various points the overturning of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell seemed impossible. The overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act seemed impossible. The overturning of the prohibition on out and partnered clergy seemed impossible. That I would be happy, healthy, and living authentically beyond my wildest dreams seemed impossible. But God shows up in the impossible.

This past Easter I performed my first baptism as a pastor. It was an extraordinary day, not simply because it was my first Easter and baptism as an ordained pastor or because babies in baptismal outfits make my heart giddy. No, it was extraordinary because that nearly two year old boy is a cousin of Matthew Shepard, whom he may well grow up to look rather a lot like. It was extraordinary because I poured water and anointed him with oil while wearing the vestments of Cindy Witt, a proclaimer from the historic roster forced out of ministry because of her sexual orientation and relationship. 

I reflected on the lead up to that Easter morning that we, he, his family, and I, were living into possibilities that simply had not existed a few decades earlier. Possibilities I’m not entirely sure any of us really thought might come to pass. And yet, I, an out and partnered pastor, performed a baptism of a little boy whose relative had been tortured and left to die for being the same as me, wearing the stole and chasuble of a pastor who was forced out of parish ministry long before her prime for being the same as me. And yet. 

And yet on Easter, the impossible is so near, the impossible is so close to the possible, that the impossible may well walk up and greet us in the unexpected place if we are only willing to go looking. 

To my younger queer self: the situation now is not how it will always be. Somedays the impossible may come so near to the possible as to be reality. With God, anything is possible. Thanks be to God.

 


Chelsea Achterberg (she/her) is a southerner who is enjoying adapting to Colorado life. She currently serves as Pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church in Aurora and as an Army Reserve Chaplain. Chelsea and her wife Mandy enjoy hiking, exploring the west, and the antics of their house rabbit Mosby.

“Letter to Myself”- Bradley E. Schmeling

Oh Brad, I want to tell you everything! But that would ruin the next decades and give us more certainty than is helpful for a white guy. Trust me that there will be ironies and victories that you can’t imagine now. 
 
What I really want to do is thank you. I still need the memories of that coming-out self; the way you totally embraced the moment, body and spirit. You pierced your ear and wore a rainbow ring necklace to synod assembly. One year, you went to gay bars after the Wednesday evening Lenten service every week. Although it didn’t happen very often, you worried that people might think you were straight.
 
The holy fire of those days is still being tended deep within me. I’m left with mostly joyful memories and still delight in remembering some of the stories that never need to be outlined at the Monday morning Bible study. The pain, uncertainty, and fear of those days has long complexified. It’s not forgotten but has forged a deeper self.
 
The cynic might say that it was simply a youthful rush of identity, a burst of liberating energy to “be me.” That’s wrong. It was the power of resurrection that surged from deep within the matrix of God’s creative love in every cell of my body. It was incarnation in time, spirit and erotic flesh; one body, fabulous members.
 
That power of resurrection came also from letting go of so many expectations and plans for a future in the church. If you remember, in 1992 coming out probably meant not having a second call. In seminary, so many had such hopes for you, and then they said, “You’ve thrown it all away.” However, you very consciously decided that being faithful was more important than remaining on a privileged roster.
 
I need your integrity still. Without sharing all the details of God’s future liberating work, I’m living in another time when giving up privilege is the requirement for life, this time not just for me but for people of color in this country and for the earth itself. I need you to remind me that resurrection is the promised outcome to letting go, sacrificing, dying. 
 
You are my teacher. I need to remember that you didn’t really know how to take next steps, but you did. Some of those steps were exactly right; some weren’t. I need to remember now that the wrong steps were often precisely the ones that made us turn a new direction. Remember that you can trust this sometimes painful journey, because the power of God at work in and around us.
 
You, young Brad (now “Bradley” after a silly attempt to sound more grown up), still love and laugh and dream within “older” Bradley.  You give me hope, and I need you to meet me in this moment. You remind me that the promise of resurrection is more real than confusion, fear, and the uncharted path. You, deep within, are the voice of Spirit. Thank you! 
 
With love and hope from the future,
Bradley
 

 
Bradley Schmeling (he, him) serves as the senior pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN.  He’s married to Proclaimer Pastor Darin Easler, and they live in Minneapolis.

Letter to Myself: Cari States-Codding

Hey, kid.  
 
If you met me, you wouldn’t recognize me. Right now, a lot of who I am isn’t OK with you. And that’s OK.  
 
You should feel safe and loved expanding into who you are, instead of squishing  yourself into the box of who you’re allowed to be. You’re the teen who puts on dresses for church, and feels anxious and disgusting instead of beautiful and radiant. You’re the teen with the long hair, who uses it as a cover against the world instead of using it as an expression of yourself. If you cover yourself enough, maybe no one will notice that there’s something wrong with you. Maybe God will notice you trying, and maybe that’ll be enough. Maybe you’ll be strong enough to endure and overcome this trial.  
 
But guess what? You’ve got it all wrong. God can’t fix you because there isn’t anything wrong with you. You are wonderfully, fearfully, beautifully, intentionally, and lovingly made. Right now, you’re still hoping that you’ll grow out of your queerness and be normal. Normal requires a reference point, but there’s no reference point for someone who is divinely created. It sounds impossible now but, in a few years, you’ll discover a whole new side of God,  and you’ll find yourself unwillingly back on the road to ordained ministry. Except, this time, a pastor won’t be telling you that church leadership of any kind isn’t your place because you are a girl. No, this time a pastor will be telling you that you have a gift, and you are a person who needs to use and share this gift.  
 
You’ll find a way out of fundamentalism, but it’s not going to be easy. Years later, there will be instances that will trigger you and you’ll once again be that kid without agency, who thought that being themselves and serving God were diametrically opposed, wondering if God’s mercy and love were really meant for you. 
 
Read the books of Mark and Luke. Look at that Jesus with your own eyes, the Jesus of love, of healing, of compassion, and of sassiness. Look at what God has to say to you. Contrary to what you’ve been told, having an understanding of the Bible that doesn’t align with church views isn’t you choosing how you view God. It’s not a bastardization of who God is; it’s a spiritual connection and revelation of who God is for you. Having a different understanding does not mean you have a wrong understanding. 
 
Remember those nights when you’d fall asleep, praying that God would make you who he needed you to be? Remember how you felt that those prayers were never answered? That’s because God already had made you who you needed to be, and she already had plenty of plans for you.  
 
You are loved, you are loved, you are loved. And, my dear, you are more than enough for God and for me.  
 
You’ve got this, and I’m proud of you. 
 
With love,  
Cari

 
Cari States-Codding(they/them or she/her) lives in Philadelphia with their husband, cat, and dog, all of whom are very supportive of a third-year seminarian. Cari is in the process of earning an MDiv, seeking ordination into Word and Service in the ELCA. When not reading about queer theology or disability theology, they can be found playing Dungeons and Dragons, watching a variety of Star Trek series, or at a dog park. Cari is on a continual quest to figure out where she fits in this big, hectic world of ours, and they hope that they never delude themself into thinking that they have a complete answer.

Letter to Myself: Cassie Hartnett

 
 
 
Image Description: Photo of hand-written letters and ink pen with the words “Letter to Myself” in the center with the ELM logo, right of center. 
 

 
 
Dear Younger Cassie—
 
This isn’t going to be one of those letters where I tell you about a bunch of stuff that’s going to happen or warn you not to trust that friend or wear that outfit. First of all, that’s cheating, and second of all, you definitely won’t believe me. You are, as one of our therapists will say, “committed to that narrative.” (There’s a freebie—future you definitely goes to therapy).
 
But more importantly, if I gave you advice based on the wisdom we’ve gleaned over the past ten to fifteen years (how old are you, anyway?), that would take away your chance to live those years in all their devasting, beautiful, ridiculous glory. If I have any advice to give you without spoilers, it’s that life is heartbreaking and absurd and wonderful and your job is to live every bit of it.
 
Although it sometimes seems like it, God didn’t form you from a chaotic box of cosmic Legos. Every part of you—even the ones you hate, like the talking too much or having a chubbier stomach than the other girls in ballet—is perfectly made to connect with others. And I know that’s hard to believe. Trust me. It’s something we still struggle with; we go down the rabbit hole of blaming ourselves because we’re not over it yet. Hence, therapy.
 
But chickadee, I have to tell you it’s so true. You are made of love, for love.
 
Right now you want what you think love is—the magic, the meet-cute, the cosmic alignment of the stars. Your attitude about fairytales is that “the idea doesn’t just pop into someone’s head if it’s never actually been real.” It’s been ages since we read fantasy novels under the desk during math class, but I’ll tell you a secret—I still believe that. Just not in the same way you do.
 
All the wildest things you can imagine could be true. I could tell you that there’s a path to a magical land in the back of that weird closet in church and I could tell you that kissing girls is one of the best things you’ll ever do—you have no way to know if I’m lying. We’re not the most patient of humans, so this drives you bananas, but the only way to see what happens next is to mess around and find out.
 
It will be painful. Loving God and loving the world and loving yourself is so, so hard. But it is also everything. Let yourself be in awe. Let it bring you to your knees. Let it turn you into someone who you genuinely can’t imagine right now. Don’t give up dreaming of what could be beautiful in the world, and go out there to find it. If you can’t find it—well, chickadee, someone has to create it, and why not you?
 
(Also, wear the red lipstick. It’s not too much and it looks great on you.)
 
Your pal,
Older Cassie
 

 
Cassie Hartnett(she/her) is the 
2019 Joel Workin Scholar and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary. Since finishing a pastoral internship year in Baltimore, she has been further exploring her vocation as a playwright, birth doula, nanny, and most recently, a counselor for adults and adolescents in eating disorder treatment. She is currently based in New Haven, with a full bookshelf, rainbow cooking utensils, and her cats, Ramona and Beezus.