Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Today is #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday is here! ReconcilingWorks invites you to take part in this national celebration of giving. The news is awash in reports of Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending--let's start a news cycle today about #GivingTuesday giving.

The staff of ReconcilngWorks believes
Reconciling Works in St. Paul.  Help them celebrate #GivingTuesday!
Here's what you can do to celebrate #GivingTuesday:

* Visit our #GivingTuesday online site and make a donation to support the work of ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation. The Arcus Foundation's Gay and Lesbian Fund has provided $7,500 in matching funds.

* Hear the stories of ReconcilingWorks members across the country as they tell about how reconciling works in their community. Or, see us on Facebook.

* Send us a photo of you, your family, and friends holding a sign that says:

John Carter, secretary for the Board of
believes reconciling works in Baltimore

         I/We believe reconciling works!

           [Your city and state]

Send photos by email to Tim Fisher and we'll post them on Facebook and/or on the ReconcilingWorks blog.

See below for more examples!

* Keep visiting our Facebook and blog sites periodically during the day today to see photos sent by others who believe that Reconciling works. 

* Post updates on your own Facebook and Twitter timelines about why Reconciling matters to you, using the @ReconcilingWrks handle and #GivingTuesday hashtag.

See more information about the national #GivingTuesday movement.

The congregation of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Port Jervis, New York,
believes Reconciling Works!

Nicole Garcia, Co-Chair for the Board of ReconcilingWorks, believes reconciling works in Denver

The Eastwood family—Emily, Bob, and Martha—believes Reconciling Works in Richardson Texas.

The Brauer-Rieke family—Gretchen, Bishop Dave, Ryan and Clare—believes ReconcilingWorks in Seattle and Portland.

Patricia Mokoena and Thabiso believe Reconciling Works in St. Paul
Michelle, Lauren, and Luke Morse-Wendt believe Reconciling Works in St. Paul

The Revs. Fred Kinsey and Kim Beckmann believe Reconciling Works in Chicago.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Resources for Transgender Day of Remembrance - Nov 20

Greetings! We are sharing some worship resources for individuals and congregations to mark the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20. They are written by the Rev. Jay Wilson and can be found on the ReconcilingWorks website.

But first, please see this note (below) about the Transgender Day of Remembrance from Rev. Wilson, who describes himself as a queer and genderqueer transguy, autistic and disabled. He also identifies as a Lutheran postmodern, third-wave feminist, academic geek, disability rights activist, and social justice advocate. Jay completed his Masters in Social Work from College of St. Catherine/St. Thomas University and completed his Masters in Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

*  *  *

Dear Friends in Christ:

November 20 is set aside each year as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. Started in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, transgender activist, as a way to memorialize Rita Hester, who was violently murdered in Allston, Massachusetts, the day has evolved and grown such that today it is marked internationally in more than 185 cities in 20 countries.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance has historically been a day to remember those who have been murdered as the result of ignorance and transphobia.  It is a day set aside to call attention to the violence, extreme discrimination, and alienation towards those in society who are transgender.

The Rev. Jay Wilson
But we know that not all of the violence perpetrated on transgender people comes in the form of murder, and sometimes the victims are not themselves transgender but are allies of transgender people.  Just two days ago, Brandon Lacy Campos, a poet and activist living in New York City, died at age 35. Campos wrote and spoke often about how multiple oppressions interact in complex and often tragic ways.  I also remember my uncle, my friend's brother, neighbors lost to a workplace shooting, and my neighbors lost every week to violence and poverty in my community.

It's important to name oppression broadly, in part because the Transgender Day of Remembrance list of victims reflects privilege and oppressions of many kinds. The list includes mostly young people of color, mostly male-to-female or gender-nonconforming people, and mostly people living in poverty. It is true that violence against transgender people is a threat to all of us, no matter how well we "pass," no matter how traditionally gendered we identify, or how privileged we are otherwise. Yet, like in the rest of the world, violence and poverty affect people disproportionately. Women are murdered at far higher rates than men, whether trans or not. People who are  gender non-conforming are at higher risk than people who "pass," although passing privilege can be transient. Poverty, hunger, disease, and self-destructive behavior correlate with early death. The church must speak out about this, whether we explicitly mention transgender people or not. And when we do mention trans people, we need to be careful that we are not mentioning only those who are most likely to "pass" and be middle class, since then we're missing most of us, particularly those of us who are most at risk.

ReconcilingWorks and I encourage RIC congregations and members to offer a petition in your worship services in recognition of the Transgender Day of Remembrance during the Prayers of the Church, either this Sunday or the next, November 18 or 25. It is also a great time for starting the conversation in a congregation in other ways, such as adult forums. 

For sample prayers and for liturgies of Confession and Forgiveness, please see ReconcilingWorks website. Let us end this note with prayer: God, we give thanks for your transgender saints whom we lost this year to violence, both the saints we know of and those who died unknown. We remember those whose stories were buried with them, whose families or officials named them or reported their deaths in a way that did not honor their gender. We know you know the names of their hearts. We hold that you know them by name even when we do not. Neighbor them to us. Keep them in our hearts, and move us toward deeper community with transgender and gender non-conforming people across your world. Amen

Grace and peace,

The Rev. Jay Wilson

*  *  *

For sample prayers and liturgies of Confession and Forgiveness written by Jay, please see  ReconcilingWorks website.

For more information on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, see http://www.transgenderdor.org/


Monday, November 5, 2012

When Voting, It's People that Count

The Rev. Kristin M. Foster, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, sent the following editorial to local newspapers. Thank you, Pastor Kristin, for your timely and pastoral message.

When Voting, It's People that Count

I happened to be home a bit earlier than usual one evening this week when the phone rang.  The woman on the other end of the phone asked for Kristin, though clearly we did not know each other. She was calling on behalf of Minnesotans for Marriage, asking for my vote in favor of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, for what she called traditional marriage.

The Rev. Kristin Foster (second from right) with the
"Quilters Against the Marriage Amendment" of
Messiah Lutheran in Mountain Iron, Minnesota.
As a citizen and a Lutheran pastor who vigorously opposes the Marriage Amendment, I heard myself preparing to tell her just that, and then quickly get off the phone. Instead, I told her that we differed, but asked her a question. “What do you mean by traditional marriage?” I asked. What ensued was a conversation which lasted close to ten minutes. I knew that what I would say in favor of same gender couples having the freedom to marry would not change her vote. Likewise, she quickly realized that what she said in favor of constitutionally limiting marriage would not change mine.

Nevertheless we stayed in the conversation.  She spoke of the Bible and God wanting children to be raised in a loving home by and a mother and a father.  I spoke of God’s law of love and the youth and young adults I know who discover that they are gay in a community that still wants to pretend they do not exist. She spoke of her distress over the breakdown of marriage and its effect on children.  I echoed her distress, but noted the many people I know who are in loving, faithful, same gender relationships, or who long to be … including those who provide a nurturing, stable home for children.

We could have continued. I could have mentioned that half of the many weddings I performed this year were for couples entering a second marriage where procreating or raising children had nothing to do with the purpose of their marriage. Instead, though, our conversation needed to end.  She thanked me for talking respectfully.  I noted that although we differ markedly on this vote, I could tell that she and I were both coming from a place of the heart, of deep concern for the well-being of families.  

I am grateful for that conversation, for her willingness to take time away from her job of convincing people to vote yes in order to have a real exchange of perspectives.  I am grateful for hearing someone’s heartbeat on the other side of this proposed amendment, as I believe she heard mine … and perhaps not only my heartbeat, but of people with a minority “non-traditional” sexual orientation.  
Here’s my hope. When we hear the heartbeat of another person through a conversation, we begin to listen not just to the opinions that they embrace, but to who they are.  We recognize a full human being, pulsing like we do with fears and hopes and dreams, not just someone bearing a societal label or bristling with beliefs unpalatable to our own. Through conversation, we encounter real people and hear their stories, and those stories can change us.

I encourage you to go ahead. Have a conversation. Listen for the heartbeat. Share real stories, not hearsay, including of those who would be excluded by either the Voter ID or the Marriage Amendment.  And whatever the outcome of those votes, let’s keep having conversations!

Kristin M. Foster
Pastor, Messiah Lutheran Church
Mountain Iron, Minnesota

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lutheran Bishop Says Marriage for Same-Gender Couples is "Basic matter of fairness."

Bishop of Metropolitan Washington DC Synod (ELCA) Supports Marriage Equality in Maryland
The Rev. Richard Graham,
bishop of the Metropolitan
Washington DC Synod (ELCA) 
In a letter posted on the synod website, ELCA Bishop Richard Graham writes about his views on upcoming ballot questions. Here is what the bishop says about Question 6, which has to do with marriage equality in the state of Maryland:

Question 6 concerns an issue about which there has been considerable debate. The General Assembly last spring passed a measure to allow same-gender marriage in Maryland, with the provision that the measure could be placed on the ballot by popular petition. A petition was circulated through the state, and so same-gender marriage is on the ballot next Tuesday. Same-gender marriage is already legal in the District of Columbia part of our synod.
What is on the ballot this year is a question that has been crafted with the intention of assuring that religious institutions and religious people are not required to participate in same-gender weddings that offend their consciences. In fact, pastors and priests always have the right not to marry couples for any reason.
This question seems to me to involve a basic matter of fairness (and I suspect that many people who have feelings against same-gender sex will still support the Question 6 for that reason). I believe that our ELCA social statement on human sexuality allows for principled voting both for and against this question. I believe that positions we have taken in our synod place us squarely in support of Question 6. I personally support this question.

Bishop Graham also had this to say about conscience and political life:

Our ELCA social statements say that our church takes positions and makes statements to "inform the conscience of its members in the spirit of Christian liberty."* This means that, though we wrestle together with the political life that helps shape our communities, we each bear responsibility alone before God for the way we vote, for the hopes and the dreams that we put into practice when we cast our ballots. So that you know how I interpret the information I'm giving you, I will tell you how I intend to vote. You must pray and think and make up your own minds.

See the full text of the letter on the synod website.

People Who Inspire Us: Tristan Fernstrom

It is always inspiring to see people being active and advocating for the LGBTQ community, but it's especially inspiring to see young adults as catalysts for change. Case in point: Tristan Fernstrom, a junior at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN who is quickly becoming a voice for a part of the queer community that too often is underrepresented - the trans* community.  The following article from the Gustavian Weekly (campus student newspaper) spotlights Tristan's powerful presence on campus.

Gustie of the Week: Tristan Fernstrom
Beth Schmidt | November 2, 2012

Tristan Fernstrom came to Gustavus knowing that on the inside he was a little different than what outsiders saw. During his first year at Gustavus, Tristan was known as Erica, the name given to him at birth, and over Coming Out Week Erica came out as a lesbian. As time went on and he learned more about himself, however, Tristan realized that identifying as a lesbian really didn’t sufficiently describe his identify, so last fall he came out again; this time, as transgender, adopting a new name and a fresh outlook.

“After doing the E Pluribus [an on-campus presentation highlighting diversity/'tough' issues] show for the first-years, I knew I needed to do it. I had come to terms with it; it was how I felt on the inside. I didn’t need to hide from my true self anymore,” Tristan said. “I have always liked doing and being involved in ‘boy stuff,’ but I repressed these feelings when I was little. If I was given a dress, I would wear it.”

Coming out for the second time as transgender was a much bigger step for Tristan as it changed his whole identity. Grasping the significance and coming to terms with a new definition for who he “is,” Tristan reached out to fellow peers and faculty.

“When Tristan came out to me, I sat back and essentially told myself to shut up and listen. In addition, I was honored because he put me in a position where I was the professor being taught by a student about something that I needed to know about,” Professor in English and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and the Queers and Allies (Q&A) faculty advisor Rob Kendrick said.

“We are extremely close and open. We have a profound amount of trust with each other, and we have a friendship where we can skip the formalities that are sometimes needed in others and get right to the serious stuff,” Senior Alex Christensen said.

Tristan has received positive support from people on campus including friends and professors. Many people have been very accommodating and seem to forget that he has changed at all, and the outcome has been fantastic.

Truthful, involved, talented, strong, articulate, caring and socially engaged are just a few of the words that Tristan’s friends and professors use to describe him. Mara LeBlanc
 “Tristan is currently in my God and Gender class, and I was very excited to meet him after seeing him perform in E Pluribus. His willingness to talk so openly about something that we are all curious about makes it very comfortable. He understands that people have questions, and I respect his courage and clarity,” Professor in Religion and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Mary Gaebler said.

Tristan is an active member and advocate for the Q&A group on campus. His main goal of being part of the Q&A community is to be part of a go-to group of people who are open and willing to talk about anything and everything. He is tries to spark more discussion in talking about and having more awareness about the LGBT community.

“Something that I would say to the greater community is not to generalize. Sometimes people think that if they know one person from the LGBT community they assume, it is applicable to all of the members. It is more helpful to just ask when you have a question; we want to talk to you about it so that you have a better understanding,” Tristan said.

The impact that someone leaves at Gustavus is sometimes unseen at first. Other times, someone touches the community as a whole and makes a difference in everyone’s life. Tristan has become a symbol for future students to learn and feel comfortable with themselves and others.

“Educationally, he is leaving a huge footprint. Tristan is not keeping it from others, and he is revealing things to people that they have probably never experienced before,” Kendrick said. “He is reinforcing what we do value and what we need to value, showing us that our campus won’t actually go to Hell for accepting everybody.”

“I feel like Tristan has a sense of obligation to the cause. He believes in good intentions and is open about sharing the process. I don’t know if this is a blessing to our campus or if we got lucky with such a good example for others to see and learn from,” Gaebler said.

“He is leaving the biggest, gayest, happiest, the most human, the most progressive, the fullest-of-love mark a person can leave. Tristan has changed us all simply by being the wonderful human that he is, and that’s a mark Gustavus will wear forever,” Senior Julia Tindell said.

Tristan has dreams of playing jazz in New Orleans. If that doesn’t pan out, becoming a gender therapist and counseling transgender youth while working on the LGBT campaign is his back-up plan. Engaged and ready to continue the journey of being himself, Tristan is embracing who he is and doing what makes him happy.

“My experience at Gustavus has no doubt been better because of Tristan. I have been able to see living examples of strong humans and how one person can shape the community. He has contributed to my personal growth, and I wish everyone could know Tristan. You can’t deny that he is an awesome person; if you have a problem with it, it’s your loss,” Christensen said.

All Saints: A Day for All Families

Last night, over 1,000 people of faith from congregations across Minnesota were joined by clergy and denominational leaders, members of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, and a mass choir, to celebrate a service of "All Saints: a Day for All Families." The service was hosted by Minnesotans United for All Families and Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis.

The Rev. Bradley Schmeling, senior pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, preached. His sermon referenced the proposed amendment to the Minnesota that would ban same-gender couples from marrying:

"I don’t think the people who are pushing this amendment understand the power of Jesus to call us out. Every time we come out, name our families, invest in life, it’s a response to divine impulse to live. Once you’ve pulled up the drapes, or marched down the aisle, or opened the door, there ain’t no closing it again."  

See below for the full text of this wonderful sermon.

The Rev. Bradley Schmeling
John 11:32-44
"All Families, All Saints "

Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
November 1, 2012

Sermon by the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling

I’m humbled by the invitation to be here tonight. It’s a joy to be with you at this important time.  My partner, Darin, and I have only lived in Minnesota since this summer. We moved here from Georgia, a state that already has a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Darin was living in Minneapolis when we met at a conference.  I only knew Minnesota by reputation.  Of course, I knew about the density of Lutherans.  But I also knew Minnesota to be a state with a strong commitment to community life: a place where the safety net was more secure, schools that ranked high, health care that is more accessible, the home of Hubert Humphrey, Paul Wellstone, Ollie and Lena, and that big burly Paul Bunyon. It’s a testimony to the power of love that Darin was willing to move from a state that’s predictably blue, at least on the weather map, to the red clay of Georgia.

It was just after we met that Georgia placed the amendment on the ballot and adopted it with 76 percent of the vote.

Imagine our delight when Jesus called us to come out of Georgia. How ironic that one month after the call was extended, the Minnesota legislature put the proposed amendment on the ballot.

Every time we move, the state proposes an amendment trying to eliminate gay marriage.  States are starting to send us messages.  “Stay where you are!”

Are we really that dangerous?  I mean, really?

Look around this room.  This is the group that signals the downfall of American values?  I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you don’t really look that dangerous.  You’re here with your families.  You’re worried that the service will go too long and your children will get to bed too late.  You’re here with your grandparents, your mothers and sisters, your brothers and your fathers.  You’re here with members of your church.  You’re here with your clergy.

A constitutional amendment is required to keep this gathering in check?  An amendment to keep us from making promises “until death do us part?”  An amendment to keep us from building the emotional and social structures that will take care of our children and prepare them to take their place in a next generation? An amendment to keep us from taking care of each other in joys and sorrows, in plenty and in want?  An amendment to make sure we do not take our place along with everyone else in a free society?


It’s not just sad; it’s outrageous.  It’s infuriating to have to fight for recognition, to spend such money to protect a basic freedom.  I have to admit that moving to Minnesota when this amendment is on the ballot just makes me mad.  All we wanted to do was move to a state with a great social history, settle down into our new jobs, hang some drapes, and bicker about the placement of the knickknacks.

When Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, too late to heal him, the text says that he was deeply disturbed, and he wept.  Later in the story, when people are critical of his delay, it says again that he’s deeply disturbed.  This little section of the story is often used to demonstrate the humanity of Jesus; how much he loved his friend, how compassionate he was.  One of my teachers at Emory, Gail O’Day says that the problem with the translation in the NRSV is that it doesn’t capture the full meaning of the Greek.  It’s not that Jesus is greatly disturbed.  He’s not sad or grieving.  He’s mad.   (You know how I’d rather say that, right?  But it’s All Families night.)  He’s outraged.[1]

It changes the story, doesn’t it?  It gives it another layer, an edge. The emotional background of the raising of Lazarus isn’t so much sorrow as it is anger.

Is he stirred up and agitated at death?  Angry at it’s power to roll stones over graves or to slam shut closet doors?  Angry that so many in the crowd stand back and just watch it all happen? Maybe he’s angry at the grumpy people in the back row who are so sure they know the trajectory of the future?  Maybe he’s angry that suffering and oppression interrupt life again and again, life that God intends to be joyful and abundant?  Maybe he’s just fed up with the smallness of their imagination? Maybe he’s angry at what fear can do to a community?

It seems powerful that, rather than lash out or fling judgment at their unbelief, Jesus practices resurrection.  Anger draws him to act, not to limit, not close, but to open, to set Lazarus free.

Roll the stone away!  Open the door!

Lutheran pastor and writer Walter Wangerin tells the story of a 90-year old woman that he came to know when he was young and assisting a pastor with ministry.  She invited him to her home because she knew he was a writer.  And she told him that she was a writer, too; that she would be his mentor, if he wished. 

Emily Dichter had been compelled to write, but in the last decade of the nineteenth century, it was not seemly for the wife of the school principal to engage in such pursuits.  Her duty was to marriage and family.  But she wrote, anyway, when the children were sleeping, in the afternoons when her husband was away, behind drawn drapes where no one could see her. 

She began helplessly, devoutly to write a biography of Katherine Luther.  When it was finished, she mailed it to the only publisher she knew, a Lutheran press.

The publisher answered.

“Emily Dichter waited until she was alone.  And then she took the letter into her dining room, slit the envelope, unfolded the single sheet of paper, and devoured three lines of print, “Congratulations….”  She told him, “I laughed aloud.  I twirled me around the dining room like any child.  My skirts ballooned, my arms went up, my hair flew backward.  I cried for joy to God in heaven—and I danced.  I danced.  Oh, how I danced that day.”

“But before she danced her joy, Emily Dichter went to the window and shut the drapes.  The community must not see such vanity.  The community would despise the sin in her.  Therefore, Emily Dichter, writer, splendor, God’s bright eye—she danced in the dark.  Alone.[2]

O Minnesota, Is that what you would have us do?  To have each of us pull down the shades before we pick up our children and twirl them around, giggling in delight?  To make promises and build lives outside the view of everyone else?  To sneak into hospital rooms, pretending we’re a good friend?  To interpret our commitments, our promises, our our families as sin?

I don’t think the people who are pushing this amendment understand the power of Jesus to call us out.  Every time we come out, name our families, invest in life, it’s a response to divine impulse to live.  Once you’ve pulled up the drapes, or marched down the aisle, or opened the door, there ain’t no closing it again.  It’s like baptism.  Once you’ve baptized a child, named her as child of God, marked her with resurrection spirit, it’s too late.  The shades are up.  The stone is rolled away.  Lazarus is out.

This is what God does; what God is determined to do; and will do, no matter what happens on Tuesday.  Not only is Lazarus raised from the dead.  Jesus is alive.  And we’re going to get married if we want to, because love always wins.

Now, love always has some backlash.  It was the raising of Lazarus that set into motion the plot to crucify him.  That wouldn’t work either.  That would only open the door once and for all, for everyone, to come out into life.  The backlash may create setbacks and require additional strategy, but it cannot win the day.

People raised from the dead are not easily controlled.  When you’ve brushed up against the love of God, you’ve got a story to tell. They’re going to witness to the power of love.  They’re going to point to the narrowness of old, limited ways.

And they’re going to vote.  You might call the raising of Lazarus “Jesus’ radical get-out-the-vote strategy.”  Of course, someone’s going to say, “Was that a dead man voting?  We’re going to need to start requiring identification for that!”  They would run ads that ended, “I’m Pontius Pilate, and I approve this ad.”

What’s most powerful in this text is that, while Jesus calls new life into being, he gives it to the community to make concrete:  “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The task of resurrection, the liberation of the captives, the healing of the nations, is given to community that has gathered around Lazarus; the community that is gathered around Jesus.  Lazarus will only be as free as they help him to be.  The power of Easter itself is placed within our hands, within our families, within this gathering of saints.

I don’t know how next Tuesday will go.  I pray that the constitution will not be used to bind our freedom.  But, either way, we will be left with the mission to unbind those who yet struggle to come alive fully.  The vote next week will not change the laws that prohibit same sex marriage.  That is a stone yet to be rolled away.  There will still be children who need a voice of love to come out.  There will still be many in our community who dance with their beloved behind drawn shades.  There will be those who have been deeply wounded by the rhetoric and outrageousness of this campaign.  There will be many who believe that the church stands on the side of oppression.  There will still be a need to meet, understand, and love those who are mysteriously afraid of us. 

There is much unbinding to be done.  Our society is still wrapped in grave clothes.

But, let us be clear, at least for this hour with the saints, that we carry the power of Christ’s resurrection, the power of God’s life in our very hands, power to speak with the authority of love:

Roll that stone away.

Come out.

Let my people go.

[1] Gail O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, Luke and John, Abingdon Press, 1995, p. 691.
[2] Walter Wangerin, Jr. “The Manger is Empty:  Stories in Time,” Harper and Row, 1989, p. 97.