Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some Quick Updates

Hello from Minnesota in the almost springtime! We've been busy with upcoming events and internal processes, but the news outside doesn't stop for those. Here are some great stories you might have missed this week:

"Study: Discrimination Takes A Toll On Transgender Americans"

A study that LC/NA encountered at Creating Change in Minneapolis this year has been making the rounds in the news. The sweeping report is the first of its kind to ask so many questions about so many types of discrimination faced by transgender and gender varint Americans. NPR's Michel Martin interviewed Jaime Grant and Micelle Enfield about the results of the study and tei prespectives on it. Here's a taste of the interview to pique your interest:

MARTIN: Michelle, do you mind, start us by telling us your story of how you came to feel that you were more of a Michelle than a Michael, how about that.
Ms. ENFIELD: I grew up on the reservation, the Navajo reservation, and historically I want to let you know that transgenders - well, actually this is the Western term. For Navajos it is nagleh(ph). And what that defines is a role in a community, and what we did for our community - that is, we played both roles, such as the masculine role of going out and trapping firewood and doing household chores, but also the feminine side such as taking care of children, washing dishes, and cooking meals and what have you.

And so I knew something was different from a very, very young age. And growing up, I had always heard the term gay and (bleep) and queer and what have you, and from my definition of that, I didn't understand that I was that, and I didn't know of the term transgender until I was a sophomore in high school. This was like a light-bulb moment.
"HIV/AIDS at 30: Edwin Sanders Ministers to 'Whosover They May Be'"

30 years after the identification of the virus that would come to be known as HIV, thr Rev. Edwin Sanders of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church of Nashville, TN, has been doing ministry through the First Response Center providing HIV/AIDS testing.
The church’s outreach—which provides HIV/AIDS patients with transportation to appointments, delivers prevention information to young adults, makes condoms available and at one time ran a syringe-exchange program—is distinctive. Sanders doesn’t know of any other African American congregation operating an HIV/AIDS primary care clinic.
“There are other congregations with primary care clinics that do other things, but ours is exclusively focused on HIV/AIDS,” he explains. “We were really fortunate to get a planning grant from the URSA Institute about 10 years ago, and have a fully operating clinic four years after that. Now we are able to serve a population in our community that represents those who are truly disenfranchised.”
The work they do is truly reaching out to those in the margins. We give thanks for the work of this congregation.

"National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Coalition for LGBT Health, and the National Black Justice Coalition celebrate LGBT Health Awareness Week"

From their website,
LGBT Health Awareness Week aims to bring attention to the devastating cycle of discrimination and health disparities that affects the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Because LGBT people are regularly discriminated against in employment, relationship recognition and insurance coverage, they are more likely to get sick and less likely to be able to afford vital health care than their straight and non-transgender neighbors.
LGBT people and their families also experience high rates of anti-LGBT violence, the stress of coping with discrimination and a widespread lack of LGBT cultural competency in the health care system. This year’s LGBT Health Awareness Week theme, “Come Out for Health,” encourages LGBT people, health care providers and policymakers to work together to eliminate the health disparities affecting the LGBT community and to promote better health and well-being for all LGBT people and their families.
We are embodied people in Christ, and our physical health matters. Many congregations do work in clinics, hospitals and even within their own buildings to promote the health of all people. We hope that many more come to address the health disparities across race, gender identity and sexual orientation as they continue their ministries.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday 2011

The following is a sermon offered by Rev. Michelle Miller (Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Chicago, Illinois) on March 6, 2011.

TransSunday
Transformers, transfusion, transportation, translation, transcendent, transfix, transaction, transgender, transfer, trans fat, transubstantiation..that’s one I won’t even begin to try and explain.

Have you ever noticed how many words begin with trans? Until this week, with a Transfiguration sermon looming in front of me, I didn’t pay much attention to all the Trans words. But once I did, I couldn’t stop noticing them. They were everywhere: transparent, transplant, transition, transpire, transgress. In my Webster’s Dictionary, 111 “trans” words fill up nearly four pages.

Trans is a Latin word that means across, beyond or on the other side. Trans comes from the Greek word metemorpho, as is metamorphosis, meaning change.

It’s a perfect prefix to pay attention to at this time and in this place. We, as a country, are on a transformation journey. No matter what side of the political aisle we’re on, we’re trying to transform this country, and our place in the world.

And yesterday, in this space, we celebrated the transformation that has happened in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America when our pastor, Craig, and his partner, Ernest, celebrated their union as the first couple to do so since the ELCA changed its official policy for gay or lesbian pastors. We celebrated Transformation—in their lives, and in our church.

Another transformation that has been on my mind lately is the change my good friend has gone through as he transitioned from female to male. His transformation is my first experience journeying with someone who is transgender. The outward physical changes in the past 3 years have been remarkable. But when I asked him about these changes and what the word Trans means to him, he simply said, “The thing is, I don’t feel like I’ve changed at all. The transitioning let my true self be known and seen by others. "This is" really who I have always been all along.” Then he said, “Transitioning affected the people around me much more than it affected me. They were the ones who changed their ideas, assumptions and prejudices about gender.”

Wow! Was that an eye opener! Especially as we look toward the transfiguration text before us this day. Now transfiguration is a strange word, one that we almost never use in everyday speech. And it’s always been a difficult concept for me to preach on. Traditionally we understand the transfiguration of Jesus to be about the changes Jesus goes through on the mountain top with Peter, James and John at this side. Jesus’ face shone as bright as the sun. Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white. In this miraculous story of the transfiguration, Jesus changes form on the mountain.

But what if this transfiguring on the mountaintop, witnessed by his closest friends and disciples, wasn’t as much about Jesus’ transformation, as it was about theirs? In the transfiguration Jesus’ true self was known and seen by others, perhaps for the 1st time. Jesus revealed more of who he’s always been—Human and Divine.

But the disciples' lives, and their understanding of Jesus, were transformed on that mountaintop. While they are getting busy building a home for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, a voice from heaven breaks in and declares, “This is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased.” Immediately they fall to the ground in fear, as was expected when someone is in the presence of the holy. But Jesus reaches out a very human hand, touches them and says, “Get up. Do not be afraid.”

Jesus, Peter, James and John, and the nine waiting below, had plenty to fear once they came off the mountain. There is suffering, persecution, and a crucifixion ahead. The disciples will be overcome with doubt and fear, and will deny and desert Jesus in his final trials. But they will also be transformed from fearful, anxious, inactive cowards to brave, confident, active champions of the faith. In their transformation, through their encounter with the glorified and holy Jesus, their true selves will be revealed as well. They become who they have always been called to be—Beloved ones who belong to God.

And their experience is ours as well. Perhaps this place is our mountain, our place of transformation. We meet Divine Jesus, and catch a glimpse of his glory. And we also experience through this body of Christ human touch, comforting and challenging words, and silence that enables us to unplug the everyday noise from our ears and hear, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

We may gather in this place transfixed or in transition, but here we are transfigured and transformed to live more freely and purposefully, revealing more fully our true selves. Be transformed by this bread and wine, this water and word, this silence and song—all full of courage and promise—and go out beloved children of God joyfully living as the ones you were created to be.

The miraculous and glorious Transfiguration story provides for us a TRANSition between the seasons of Epiphany and Lent. As we hover this day between two liturgical seasons, we change not only our season, but our focus: Jesus is revealed on the mountain as both human and divine, and we are pointed toward the experience of his death and resurrection. We bury the glorious and joyful Alleluia, until that Easter morn when his death is transformed into life—for him, for you and for me. And then we will hear once again, “Do not be afraid, with joy go out and share the good news of transformation, new life—changed lives.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Preaching the Good News of Welcome

The following is a sermon LC/NA's deputy director Ross Murray preached on Sunday, March 20th in Glendale, CA.

Grace to you and peace from God our creator and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

First of all, I am so thankful to be with you this Sunday morning. I am gladdened to hear that you are considering becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation. This process can really help your congregation grow and become stronger, even as you reach out to those who are often outside of the church walls. I was also blessed to be with half a dozen people from your church at the “Building an Inclusive Church” training we did yesterday. Working with Reconciling in Christ congregations, and potential Reconciling in Christ congregations is my favorite part of my job.

I find the Nicodemus story that we just heard in our gospel lesson fascinating. Here we have a Pharisee, a religious leader, sneaking up to Jesus under the cover of darkness, to learn more about the kingdom of God. He comes at night to listen and learn from Jesus.

Nicodemus had heard about this Jesus. He knows the signs that Jesus has done. He probably knows Jesus’ teachings. After hearing so much about Jesus, Nicodemus decides that he wants to know more. He says in his opening line: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God”. He’s invoking the “we”, but not being very specific about who the “we” is.

One thing that struck my curiosity was the question of who Nicodemus is representing. It is possible that he is visiting Jesus on behalf of a group of Pharisees. Maybe some Pharisees heard of Jesus’ signs and teachings and elected Nicodemus to be the “scout” for the group. He might be learning what Jesus has to say so that he can report back to the larger group.

It’s also possible that the Pharisees sent Nicodemus to “test” Jesus. There are plenty of other stories in the bible with the Pharisees testing Jesus with some trick question. But this story is different. The line of questioning isn’t asked in such an accusatory tone. And instead of the questions being asked in front of a crowd of witnesses, Nicodemus visits Jesus after dark, alone. No, I think that Nicodemus is coming to learn. He still may be representing others who are interested in Jesus, but he is certainly not trying to trap Jesus by his words.

But it is also very possible that Nicodemus isn’t representing anyone else. He may have heard of Jesus, and wanted to know more. Perhaps Nicodemus didn’t want any of the other Pharisees to know that he had such an interest in learning from Jesus. In fact, his interest in Jesus might be a source of shame for him. He might be visiting at night to make sure that no one else sees him in Jesus’ company.

Whether he is coming out of his own personal interest, or he is representing a group of Pharisees who want to learn more about this Jesus, Nicodemus decided that nighttime is the best time for a conversation like this. And that is perhaps the most interesting of this gospel story…at least to me.

Maybe I’m fascinated with this part of the story because Nicodemus coming to visit Jesus after dark is what I feel such strong resonance with. Nicodemus didn’t approach Jesus in the daylight, in front of the other crowds. He didn’t want people to know that he was learning from Jesus directly. His interest in Jesus had to be hidden. He wasn’t a disciple, in the sense that he followed Jesus around. He was someone who wanted to learn more, but didn’t want to be associated with Jesus directly.

We might think that this is strange or unfamiliar behavior. We may also judge Nicodemus for not wanting to be open about his relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, this same shame continues to play out today. There are so many people who have a spiritual hunger, but they are scared to death of what being associated with our churches might mean to them. They want to find spiritual fulfillment in their lives, but they are scared of what will happen to them if they join a church.

In part, I am talking about lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. The history of the relationship between of this population and the church is not good. There is a lot of evidence that a church might not be the safest or healthiest place for someone who is gay or transgender. The Christian history of oppression against LGBT people brings a lot of baggage. Even when a congregation claims that it isn’t like “those” Christians, there is still a lot of baggage to get over.

But I’m describing something that is much bigger than just lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. I’m talking about young people, or people who fear that they are going to be judged, or people who believe that church is about enforcing a morality code that they cannot keep. According to a recent study by the evangelical research company Barna, the perception that most young people hold about the church is that it is judgmental and anti-gay. Young people don’t want to be associated with the church because they don’t want to be those things. They don’t even want the reputation of being those things.

I’ve often heard this comment from non-church people who attend meetings or functions in churches, “I’m surprised that lightning hasn’t struck the building yet.” I find this one of the saddest comments to hear about someone’s experience of church. These people believe that God wants to keep them away from the houses of worship at any cost. It signifies that these people believe they have no worth in God’s eyes, and are in fact a threat that must be destroyed. Comments like this grieve me to my core.

The saddest thing is that I know that churches aren’t like that. Churches are a place of spiritual growth and nurture. Churches are a place of community. I want to reach out to those these folks and say, “If you could only experience the life and grace and gospel that I experience in these really good churches, then you might think differently,” but it takes a lot to convince someone that a church isn’t as dangerous as they think it to be.

If folks do want to visit and “try out” our churches, then they feel like they have to “sneak in”. I suspect they might really relate to Nicodemus. They probably have a strong spiritual hunger, but they can’t bring themselves to be a part of the church. If they do want to check it out, they are going to do so tentatively. They might slip into church, about 5 minutes after the service has started. They will sit in the back, as close to the door as they can get. They will stand up and sit down, but might not sing or pray with the rest of us. But they will be listening very carefully. They will want to hear the words that are being sung, and prayed, and spoken from the pulpit. They are listening for the word of condemnation that they are expecting. They are also likely to leave, just as the last hymn is being sung. You won’t get much opportunity to welcome them. You won’t get to show them how welcoming you are. You just have to live it out and share it with them however you can. And slowly, very slowly, the Holy Spirit may work on this person to be a part of your congregation, or perhaps bring them somewhere else. You never know.

As I’m saying this, you might be thinking of one particular, skeptical visitor to your church. There might be a stereotype of this kind of visitor, but this applies so much more broadly. And this reveals the truly amazing thing about our gospel text for the day. Nicodemus came at night, all alone, to ask his own individual, private questions. Over the course of the conversation, the understanding of God’s work in the world gets wider and wider. Nicodemus can barely begin his introduction when Jesus gives him a lesson of being born of water and of the Spirit.

By the time we get to the end of the conversation, we get the proclamation that “God so loved the world, the He gave His only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life.” How much more universal do we need to get from that? This story has gone from an individual asking his own personal questions to the promise that everyone who believes in Jesus is going to be granted eternal life. That’s a huge transition! It’s not about one person anymore. It’s about everyone!

We’ve seen the same principle apply in welcoming congregation work. We recommend that congregations go through a process in order to determine whether they want to be a Reconciling in Christ congregation or not. Sometimes people are concerned that they will become a “gay” church by becoming RIC. Often, what they find when they go through the process of listening and learning from one another and by proclaiming themselves welcoming is that they will start to address the universality of the RIC message.

Congregations often do RIC as a welcome to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but those are not who often come in the door first. Instead, they get young adults with families, who have also felt this judgment from the church. In talking about how to be welcoming to LGBT people, congregations have often found that they can be welcoming to other people who have also felt alimentation from the church.

This is the beauty of the gospel of Christ. We often think that it applies to one particular instance, with one particular population. But once we get rolling on it, it we realize that it is something that we all need to hear. Our special ministry for “those people out there” becomes a gospel message that enriches all of our lives.

Nicodemus wanted to sneak in to have a private conversation with Jesus, but out of that conversation, we get the promise of the love and salvation of God for the whole world. One visitor to your church may hear that message and be transformed by it. That’s the power of the gospel. And that is why we continue to preach and share that gospel with anyone and everyone.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Do you have a story or sermon about welcome, acceptance of and love for LGBT people, or the good work being done by an RIC congregation? Let us know!

"It Gets Better" Book to Feature Bishop Hanson

Months after intense media coverage of anti-gay bullying inspired columnist Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller are editing a new book entitled, "It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating A Life Worth Living." The book is named after the couple's well-known YouTube project started to send messages of encouragement and hope to young people bullied about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The project went viral and found participants from all walks of life, including Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, who is contributing an essay to the collection.


Bishop Mark Hanson in a still from his "It Gets Better" video

Thousands of videos have been created since the Fall of 2010, and creators of many of the videos were tapped to write essays for the book. Bishop Hanson's essay is a transcript of his own video, in which he spoke about his family and the love that LGBT youth can find as beloved children of God. "God has called you by name and claimed you forever. There is a place for you in this world and in this church," Hanson said.

Other essayists in this collection include the Rev. Gene Robinson, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire; Rep. Nancy Pelosi; Secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton; Sen. Al Franken; Ellen DeGeneres; and President Barack Obama.

To learn more about the It Gets Better project, visit the official website at http://www.itgetsbetter.org/.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Naming Project on Lisa Ling's “Pray the Gay Away?”--available online!

The Naming Project bible camp will be part of a program, "Pray the Gay Away?," being re-broadcast on Friday, March 11, at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central. This program is part of the Our America with Lisa Ling series of programs. Immediately following the program will be The Gayle King Hour, discussing the program with Lisa Ling and taking questions from the viewers. It's highly recommend that you block the time to view both hours, to hear the full nuance of what the show tried to do. Also, we call your attention to the statement made by Alan Chambers at the end of the first hour.

Our America is broadcast on the Oprah Winfrey Network and other cable networks. If you don't have access to the Oprah Winfrey Network, you can view the episode online here.

In this program, Lisa Ling looks at the issue of Christianity and gay, whether it is possible to be both Christian and LGBT at the same time. In addition to an interview with Alan Chamber, president of Exodus International, the program will contain filmed coverage of The Naming Project, and statements from LGBT campers there as well as Ross Murray (LC/NA Deputy Director), Rev. Brad Froslee (pastor of Calvary Lutheran, Minneapolis, MN), and Rev. Jay Wiesner (pastor of University-Incarnation Lutheran, Philadelphia, PA), who co-founded The Naming Project.


The Naming Project staff, from left: Rev. Brad Froslee,
Rev. Jay Wiesner, & Ross Murray
The filming for the program took place last summer. Camp in 2011 will be July 24-29 at Bay Lake Camp near Garrison, MN. Please refer any high school youth to the camp and to Naming Project's web site. Word of mouth is going to be the best method of recruiting. The Naming Project has seen a tremendous growth in the past couple of years, so it is clear that the ministry is needed. The story unfolding from the Lisa Ling show should bring into sharp focus the continuing need for such a ministry.

The Naming Project is a faith-based youth group serving youth of all sexual and gender identities. The primary focus is to provide a place for youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning or allied to learn, grow, and share their experiences. In this way The Naming Project is a space in which youth can comfortably discuss faith and who they understand themselves to be--whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender...or straight.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Naming Project to be on Oprah's "Our America" on Tuesday, March 8

We've told you all about LGBT faith-based camps including Spiritual Pride Project, Wonderfully Made, and The Naming Project. You may have even seen the award-winning documentary "Camp Out" about the campers at The Naming Project. Now you can learn even more.

The Oprah Winfrey Network's "Our America" with Lisa Ling will feature The Naming Project on Tuesday, March 8th at 10/9 Central time. OWN describes the episode as:
Pray the Gay Away?

Through intimate portraits and perspectives, Lisa Ling takes a look at one of the most polarizing debates in Christianity today: Is it possible to be gay and Christian at the same time?
Tune in with us that night to find out more about The Naming Project, to meet some of the wonderful staff and campers involved, and to see what the camp is all about. See if there will be a viewing party in your area, or register one yourself either on Facebook or through The Naming Project website.