Spiritual Direction and a Rejection of the Nashville Statement

by Teresa Blythe

Evangelical Christian leaders who refuse to accept LBGTQIA+ persons as they are recently released their treatise on sexuality and gender, called The Nashville Statement (and did so during the worst hurricane in the nation’s history for who-knows-what reason). I’m not linking to this hurtful document—if you want to read it you can google it—and I have a few points to make about why I believe spiritual direction should always be a place of radical welcome to gender and sexual minorities (GSM).

Some spiritual directors shy away from taking a stand on controversial issues that divide left-wing from right-wing Christians. They contend it’s a political subject and they want to stay non-partisan.

I choose, however, to stand with all GSM people and offer my thoughts on why a statement such as this Nashville manifesto is worth countering.

As a Christian spiritual director, I take my cues from Jesus and one of his teachings that has always guided how I treat others—whether they are like me or different from me—is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

How would I like to be treated? Then that’s at the very least how I will treat others and I believe it would be Christ-like to go even farther and treat people as they would like to be treated.

I would never want to be referred to in the angry, hurtful, heterosexist language used in the Nashville Statement. In fact, in one way, I was mentioned and I felt the burn. This statement links marriage primarily to procreation. I have no children, so I guess I’m in need of repentance in their eyes.

It also speaks of male and female as the only genders around. What does this mean for people who are Intersex and born with both male and female characteristics?

But mostly the statement employs the usual anti-gay rhetoric that has been driving the gay community away from church for the past 50 or so years.

OK, so I’ve made my point. I reject the Nashville Statement wholeheartedly. As an ally of the GSM community and as a spiritual director who loves working with a diverse and wonderfully created clientele, I stand with Jesus in loving neighbors as I want to be loved and accepted.

And I’m asking all spiritual directors to be open and affirming of gender and sexual minorities. In fact, I would say that if you only want to work with cisgender (look it up) and heterosexual people, you should really not be a spiritual director. If you fall in that category, I would encourage you to get to know some people who are different from you. Many progressive churches (UCC, some UMC, PCUSA, Episcopal, ELCA and others) are open and affirming and in those churches you will come to know people who are GSM and their loved ones. I think you will find that to know them is to love them.

Arguments about homosexuality and church teachings used to seem so complicated. But after doing spiritual direction for over 20 years now, there is no argument for me.

It’s all about the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule.

reprinted with permission from the author from Spiritual Direction 101 on Patheos

Communion and My Transgender Experience

by Joe Nutini

A note from the Southwest Conference: This is edgier than our usual posts. It graphically describes an authentic spiritual experience. If that’s not for you, we will see you next time. But didn’t want you to be caught off guard.

 

I knelt down on the red wooden kneeler before the priest. His well adorned robe flowed gently over the railing separating us. He held the body of Christ in his hands. This was a sacred duty. We were to be subservient to the lord who had reportedly sacrificed himself for us. I did not share this story. For me, even as a young teen, the Eucharist was much more than that. I knelt because the cells of my body knew that there was something special, something mystical about the transubstantiation that took place in the communion ceremony. I did not kneel for the priest, I knelt for the mystic Christ who transcended all boundaries.

When the Eucharist touched my tongue, I often had an almost erotic experience. His body, his miracle touching me physically…this was something tangible. I could eat the in-between space that the risen Christ occupied. I felt it in my cells just as I felt my most recent first orgasm. I often experienced signs and visions that I now understand to be communications with the spirit world. When I took communion I did not feel so alien in my body. For a moment, though my gender and physicality did not fit quite right, I was able to overcome this painful conundrum.

Now here we are many years later. I started transitioning about 13 years ago. In that time I have become much more interfaith in my spirituality. I believe in variety of things, many of which could be termed new age.  I practice Buddhism as a way of life. Today I see most religions and spiritual practices as being a part of a large interconnected web. We are experiencing this web in both this world and in the metaphysical plane. My transgender experience has allowed me to see this more clearly and to feel it viscerally. There are no borders or barriers between this world and the next. Just like there are none when it comes to gender. There is only fluidity and change…there is only sacred and mystical blending, bonding, separating, transmuting and impermanence.

Thought I look much more like a man outwardly, I still consider myself a transman.  I am more on the masculine side of the spectrum. Yet, like my experience of Jesus in the Eucharist, I move through the fluidity of gender. There is a flow in my body. An existing in two spaces simultaneously.

There is a certain dharma to my transgender existence. I do not know what it means to be a cisgender man because I was not born one. That is my experience of being a transman. It certainly isn’t everyone’s experience. But for me, the lesson is to be able to occupy a space with which I resonate, even if it does not fit the boxes that society has created. In the 13 years that I have engaged in physical transition, I have not once said I was a man trapped in a woman’s body. I never had that story. I don’t feel a need to have the story to justify the physical changes I’ve made. It is simply what needed to be done. When the time came I knew and felt that it was right. This is a spiritual practice of trusting one’s own intuition and internal guidance system.

I often think back to the days when I was young and practicing Catholicism. The same catholic church that later threatened to excommunicate me if I came out as queer, provided the mystical experiences I needed to fully grow into myself as a transgender person. My body, like Christ’s risen body, occupies a mystical space. It is a physical manifestation of what Buddhists call impermanence. I think we all exist in this state. A state of in-between. A state of a body, a person, a mind, a heart and a soul in flux. I believe transgender people are here to be visible manifestations of this concept. I also believe we are here to help cisgender people move away from the rigidity of gender roles and into a more relaxed way of being.

Not Your Kids

by Abigail Conley

A story flashes across my screen. Philando Castile. Charleena Lyles.

“Not your kids,” a voice says from somewhere inside.

It’s the voice of relief, a promise really, “not your kids.”

June is Pride Month, so there’s an array of rainbow everything on that same screen.

Pictures of happy couples, of families with moms or dads, of chestfeeding and breastfeeding, of pronoun etiquette and label etiquette. Amid those happy pictures, happy shares of stories, there are stories of rejection intermingled.

“Not your kids,” says the same voice from deep inside. I rest assured that my LGBTQ+ kids know they’re safe at church, if nowhere else.

I know the hijabs the little girls wear set them apart from their friends and neighbors. I know the color of their skin does, too. Their families are from Pakistan. I cannot imagine what many of them have been through in their lives. These Muslim children joyfully welcome their Christian neighbors, snuggling up to the adults who are more familiar. I wonder how often they are not safe outside these walls.

“Not your kids,” comes the same voice.

This is the echo of privilege. The fears that accompany so many people do not accompany my kids—the ones from my church, the ones of my own I may have some day.

Children seem to be the great equalizer among people. Children are easier to play with and easier to talk to. They seem to more easily embrace any adult willing to play with them. They worry less about language barriers. My Spanish is even perfect for hanging out with preschool kids, where I can quiz them on colors and shapes.

I remember a plea made in my own denomination that stopped some of the fighting about LGBTQ+ welcome: our kids are dying.

Even the naysayers realized that’s the worst sort of pain.

The voice comes often, “Not your kids.”

If it’s not your kids, it’s easy to forget the sort of desperation that comes with it is your kids. It’s the kind of desperation that dragged Jairus from his home to find a man he’d only heard about. It’s the kind of desperation that made him pull Jesus along with him through the city streets, to a house where mourning had already begun. It’s the desperation that will do anything to save a child’s life.

“Not your kids,” will echo, again. Our privilege will remind us of the fears we don’t have for our children. I wonder, can we learn the answer, “But they’re somebody’s kids”?

The Sacred Path of Transition

by Joe Nutini

Today I want to talk a little bit about the concept of “the sacred path of transition.” This topic came to me after starting classes on Shambhala art. I am not necessarily a visual artist but I am definitely like to write and I do enjoy art a great deal. It’s interesting being in this class because I’m surrounded by people who seem to be very into visual art and that is really not my style. For me, the way that I write is how I express the Images and concepts in my head.

Often, I feel little bit insecure about writing and drawing in this class, even though that is really not the point at all. We are really guided to look to the moment for inspiration. Sometimes, I find that hard to do this when I am feeling insecure. Which brings me back to this concept of the sacred path of transition.

There is a lot of fear there for me when I think about writing on this topic. For starters, I wonder why I even want to write about something that is so personal to me. What is it about writing on this topic that is so important? As a transgender person, I feel like I would have to out myself. I feel like people would also assume that I’m writing about something that is only about being transgender. There are so many more transitions that we go through. There’s birth, death, illness and other things that happen in life that move us from one experience to another. These can all be considered transitions. For now, I want to begin by sharing my feelings and thoughts around the whole concept.

So what do I mean when I say, “the sacred path of transition”? I’ll start by breaking it down a bit. To me, the word sacred means that something is holy and deserving of respect. This could mean that it is attached to something that is religious or not.

The word path, in the context that I’m using it, simply means the road upon which we walk. Of course, I’m speaking about this in a metaphorical sense. What one believes about the concept of “path” could be more complex. It is possible to believe that the path leads to somewhere, perhaps a particular destination. It could be that we are simply on a path that we have labeled “life”. Perhaps as we live we begin to grow end evolve into something more than when we first arrived. Maybe it means that we are slowly making our way back to that which we actually were to begin with? Of course this is all very esoteric and up for discussion and discourse.

So what do I mean when I put the words sacred and path together? The way that I like to think about this is that we’re on a journey that we call life. This journey is holy and worthy of respect. For me, this also means respecting the fact that everyone is on their own sacred path by virtue of simply being alive.Therefore, each person’s life is ordained and worthy of exploration. We may feel as if we have the best idea of what would benefit this person most on their path. Perhaps sometimes we do. However, this concept is one that lends itself to believing that there is value in pain, pleasure, anger, sorrow, and all of the other emotions that we experience. Without these things I wonder if we would be who we actually are supposed to be.

So what does this have to do with being chronically ill and transgender? I will tell you that at one point or another in my life I wished that I was not transgender and that I was not chronically ill. I wished that I was not transgender because of society and the things that I had been taught by certain religious organizations. I wished that I was not chronically ill because I found this to be a huge barrier to my desired lifestyle. However, both have taught me that there’s something sacred and profound to be discovered when life presents us with circumstances that may seem difficult.

In regard to being transgender, I feel that this concept of sacred path is also important because many people view the transgender experience as one that is problematic in some way. I will say that I’m only speaking for myself when I say this but for me I’ve come to realize that being transgender is a blessing. Even though it can be a difficult life to live, it has afforded me a very unique experience. I lived my life for about 21 years as a person who was perceived to be female. I have now lived my life is a person who is perceived to be male for about 15 years. This has given me unique insight into the ways in which gender and gender roles affect both men and women. It has made me a much better therapist. It has also brought me more into myself.

I also believe that if there is a creator, they made me this way for a purpose. In experiencing chronic illness, I believe there is a purpose as well…even if it is simply me using my mind to find purpose within it. Thus, this experience is one that is ordained and holy. At the same time, I recognize that there’s a lot of suffering that happens as a result of holding an identity that is often looked down upon in society and to be living with illness on a daily basis.

Right now this is where my thoughts are on this topic. As I said I am sitting down to write a book about this and I will offer some blogs based on my writings as time goes on. I look forward to ongoing dialogue with you all.

The Gift of Being Trans

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I’m not a man because I have facial hair, though I do love having facial hair.

I am not a man because people perceive me as one, though I love the affirmation of that recognition.

I’m not a man because my parents call me their son, though I adore my parents knowing I am their son.

I am not a man because my wife calls me her husband and my son sees me as his dad, though that makes my heart full.

My manhood comes from accepting myself and living into my gender rather than denying truth.

My manhood comes from lived experience of white, heteronormative, dominant culture and my personal commitment to rejecting privilege,extending power out to those long hidden and long suffering.

My manhood comes from understanding power and potential abuse. And in making sure I stay as far from that line as possible.

All of these things are true for any lived gender experience. My manhood has nothing to do with other’s expectations of gender role performance.

My manhood exists as part of the intrinsic value of being fully who I am. As does womanhood. As does any personhood.

I don’t hesitate to cry as a man. No one ever told me not to as a child.

I don’t hesitate to tell my guy friends I love them and give them hugs. No one taught me that was weakness as a child.

I don’t hesitate to express emotions. No one ever told me this was bad when I was young.

I don’t hesitate to affirm someone’s lived experience as valid. As a kid, no one ever indicated that I should somehow know more about someone than they would know about themselves.

No one ever told me these things, that is, until my medical transition.

I then heard these messages frequently from well meaning guys who just wanted me to know the lay of the land regarding their understanding of manhood.

I actually got to skip masculine gender construction in my most vulnerable years. As well meaning people attempt to “teach” me about their understanding of manliness, I get to try things on and throw off the crap that doesn’t fit me.

I didn’t transition to live out western culture’s stereotypes of gender. That would be awful if I had. I transitioned so body, mind and spirit would have congruence. Authenticity was, and is still, the aim.

This dude loves to give hugs, loves to express emotion, loves to listen as you tell your lived experience.

My manhood has nothing to do with this culture, but has everything to do with my humanity. And yours.

Image credit: Creatista

Christ on the Cushion

by Joe Nutini

When I was a child, my parents sent me to Catholic schools. This was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I received a wonderful, college preparatory education that did indeed prepare me to go to college. I loved college.  I also loved Christ. Like seriously. I was in love with Christ. From the time, I was quite young, I felt the energy of Christ deep within my heart. It was instantaneous. It didn’t require any understanding of doctrine, bible etc. It was just there.

I became a social worker. My education and the love that was in my heart because of knowing the energy of Christ (and perhaps even angels and other “heavenly” beings) led me to that path. Buddhism increased my awareness of Christ. It brought me back to Christ’s energy and love. It also brought me back to myself, to my own heart and to forgiveness.

That’s where I am right now. To get there, though, was quite the journey. The curse of being in the Catholic school, was that as I got older, conservative and literalist doctrine began to enter my soul as a poison. I will add this caveat before I continue. I understand that for some people, conservative and literalist doctrine and biblical interpretation is what “Saves” them. That wasn’t my experience. Though I respect that it is for some.

When I was quite young, I also remembered feeling like I should have been born a boy. I literally thought that my body would look like my fathers and not my mothers. Somewhere in early childhood, I also learned not to say that I felt like a boy. I just knew it was a “Sin” per the powers that be. Just like I knew that two men kissing was supposed to be “sinful”. I kept it to myself. A secret. Mom and Dad told me I was a girl, so I decided to be one.

As time went on, I became a pro at religion class. I always had an A in that class. I was fascinated by it because I had intrinsically known spirit since the time I was young. I wanted people to explain things to me. I wanted to try to understand what was happening. Sometimes, I would argue or debate with the teacher. I didn’t believe all the stories. I didn’t believe that Adam and Eve were the only humans and they populated the earth. I didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus had to die on a cross. It just didn’t really fit for me. And so, I wanted to learn more. To see what I was missing.

I received confirmation when I “came of age” as a teenager. I believed in Christ and what I felt was a certain spirituality to the universe. I also didn’t want to go to hell, if I’m being honest. Back then I wasn’t sure if there was a hell or not but the adults kept saying there was. I wanted to do the right thing by this energy that was with me through all the troubles that I felt. I wanted to make Christ happy. I did what the church told me to do. It was a beautiful ceremony and we had a party.

At this time, I also became aware of my queer (at that time we said bisexual) feelings. I had been in puberty early and it felt like torture. I didn’t understand why my body was betraying my spirit and mind. I kept it to myself. I prayed for these feelings to go away. It was a sin. The more I did this, the further and further away Christ felt. That energy, that love, that guiding force in my life started to slip away. In hindsight, I realized I had been betraying myself. When I was 13-14, I didn’t know better.

When I was a senior in high school, my best friend and I wrote a feature edition of our school paper on LGBTQ youth. The religion teachers let us give a survey out on sexuality and gender identity. Right before we were going to print, I was called to the “brothers’” offices. They basically said that, “this issue doesn’t exist here.” They meant that there were no LGBTQ people. I told them that wasn’t true. That I was bisexual. IT just fell out of my mouth. It was the most freeing thing in the world. I felt my heart fill with that energy and love again, for a moment. I was told that I was confused, wrong and that if I engaged in “homosexual acts” I could be excommunicated from the church.

It felt like poison. Every fiber of my being rejected their words. I decided to no longer be Catholic.

In college, I began reading about every religion and spiritual belief that I could find. That included new age spirituality and Buddhism. I wanted to find out what was going on. I couldn’t believe that the God they taught me about in school was the same God who created me. Absolutely not. I figured that maybe I was wrong. That there was no Christ energy or holy spirit. So, I studied, I attended various religious and spiritual services and I began meditation.

During those years, I was a mess until I began transitioning. Even after coming out as queer, I still felt so distant from that love I had known as a child and young teen. It felt miles away. Something that was unattainable. When I came out, it felt slightly closer. When I transitioned, my life changed. I meditated and chanted in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I attended healing arts school where this was solidified. I was invited into some native American spaces to learn their teachings.

Yet something was still missing. I could feel that I was in touch with the love of the universe again. And yet, that Christ energy was missing. It felt like an emptiness. So, I began exploring Christianity once more. I spoke with literalists who debated with me, stating that I didn’t understand the scripture or bible. So, I studied it with them, pointing out linguistic differences from my studies in college, debating meaning and syntax. I hung out with Unity and Unitarian Universalists who helped me understand and heal from some of my experiences. I met people from the United Church of Christ who explained their understanding of Christ. I met liberation theologians who, like the UUs and UCC folks, made the most sense to me intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

And then I found Shambhala Buddhism. I read the book, Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa, the person who brought this form of Buddhism to the US. He was literally saying everything that I had thought and felt for many years. I viewed a talk about “Jesus as Bodhisattva”, a concept that I had read about before but didn’t quite understand as well before.

So, I decided to take Shambhala classes. I distinctly remember sitting in the first class. We meditated for hours. I couldn’t shake this feeling that it was I who had been blocking myself from fully feeling the world. I had internalized these poisonous messages that I had heard for a good portion of my life.

I breathed in, when I breathed out, I found Christ again. It was a distinct feeling, so hard to describe. Like putting the last piece into a puzzle and being on fire at the same time. The intensity of it lasted for a moment then dissipated. A chunk of the poison left me and in its place, was this gentle love. A love that came from both within me and outside of me.

Today, I continue to work on undoing these teachings that kept me so far away from this Universal love, the love of Christ, and the love or Buddha nature within. I personally believe these are also complexly intertwined and simultaneously always available to me. I still learning, debating, meditating, praying and learning. I often wonder if these things happened for a reason…a journey to build empathy, love and relationship with others.

Hope, Creativity, and Art

by Rae Strozzo

In the midst of struggle, creativity is where hope finds vision.

We are in need of creativity and compassion in this moment.  This is a love letter to art and creativity that is so essential to all of us. Sometimes love is hard to see, and context is everything.  So first – the bad news.  

The current political moment seems so polarized and almost surreal.  We are at war now.  The U.S. is fighting itself as it has been since its creation but with a scary vigor. Fear seems to trump so much of what is good in the world if we spend our time on Facebook or watch more than 10 minutes of the news.  Shuffling through the lies to try and sort out what might be true feels like the new daily battle.  

The U.S. is fighting and exploiting other countries for the needs and greed of a few and the government and pop culture feeds it back to us as nationalism and what a “great nation” does for freedom.  All the while internally African American churches burn, Jewish community centers deal with bomb threats, and our Muslim brothers and sisters try to cope with threats, acts of violence and destroyed property.   Transpeople of color are murdered, gender expansive people commit and attempt suicide at astoundingly high rates, and lgbtq youth are homeless at much higher rates than their straight and cis gender peers.  

Walls are built to make and keep people illegal and separate, and families fear being broken up by immigration sweeps.  Our country incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and that is also to make a buck at the expense of those people’s lives and the lives of their families – most of whom are people of color.  Many of our neighbors grow up trapped in poverty and in systems of oppression that get labeled welfare, child protective services, and the mental health care system and so on, but work against the people they are created to help and against the people who work in those systems who want to help.  

Many ignore these problems and systems, and we step past the oppression because it is as subtle as “professionalism” in a workplace that really just says look/be whiter.  Or we say we are moving to a better neighborhood or sending our kids to better schools without seeing that those are whiter neighborhoods and whiter schools.  We live in “Right to Work States” that really say it’s okay not hire people who aren’t white enough, straight enough, gender conforming enough, Christian enough because as long as we don’t say it, we haven’t done anything wrong.   

Now is a time when a college education is so expensive only the most privileged can have it without the reality of mountainous debt and where public education is stifled by our system of lack. We live in a time where art and music struggle to find access points to most people’s lives and where the funding for those things are viewed as unimportant and stripped away.   We are taught to blame the poor rather than help. We are taught to walk away from people who don’t see things the way that we do. We are taught that tough love is about shunning people from families, from churches, from communities, so that somehow they will want to come back to us, but in the way we want them and not in the way that the universe created them.  

We use our limited understanding of creativity to control other people. We use our limited understanding of creativity for greed.  Succumbing to those same limits causes us to destroy our planet.  Our creativity is limited by what we think we know and it is wasted on anger, fear, destruction, and an illusion of control. We stifle vulnerability because we mistaken it for weakness rather than a place where new ideas are born.  We are strapped down by prejudice and are unable in those moments to be our fully connected and creative selves.  Empire wants us to die for lack of imagination. White supremacy wants us to hold it up out of that same lack of imagination.

That is a lot, especially acknowledging that it isn’t even close to giving voice to all of what is up in the world right now.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I firmly believe this.  All of these situations are things that were set in motion by people.  Logic suggests that if people created it, then people can also dismantle it. So there is hope. If we can be vulnerable enough to hope, then we have a place to start to vision something different, and that means creativity can come back to us and with its divine purpose intact.

Hope is where real creativity comes in.  Creativity, as it meets compassion, produces healing and love. This is where the arts are a healing force. Creativity as it is connected to love gives us the capacity for participation in beauty. It is the ability to turn the wound into a foundation for solidarity and into an olive branch for the “other side.”

As it is said, those with the capacity for great anger hold the capacity for great gentleness. So too those with great creative power towards greed hold that power for generosity. Those with great creative power toward destruction also hold great  power for creation. All of us hold creative power.  It is the link that bonds all of us to each other and to the universe. Creativity is what makes us human. It isn’t just a painter or a musician who holds creativity. Creativity is our mirror of the universe. It is our tether to the divine.  

Artists are a part of the priesthood of the creative and have a connection to the creative energy of the universe. When artists share their work, they open that connection to and establish that link for others.

The creative process and the artistic result aren’t just for the artist. Art is about completing a cycle and about helping other people and the culture it is a part of change, grow, and evolve. Art is a sacred reminder that we are ALL part of the creative flow of the universe. That is its purpose. Art reminds people that they have things to express and to express them. Creative expression is divine language no matter how it is spoken.

The teacher who makes a place for a struggling kid to learn because they take the time to rethink how they teach is a part of that energy.   The police officer who figures out how to stop violence without using it has that energy.  The activist who rallies support while seeing the other side as people and not just an opposing force is a part of this creative energy too.  

These are just examples. All of us have a link to what makes us our best selves. That is our link to the creative energy of the universe. We have been given this gift. But it isn’t about our minds and not even about our skill sets. It’s about our willingness to get vulnerable and listen to what our higher selves are telling us.  To listen to what our souls are telling us. To listen to what the universe is telling us.  

The path that is uniquely ours in life is lit by love and compassion as motive. Come to life with love and compassion and the steps to take become real.  The creativity to make things happen in our lives and in the lives of others becomes real.  Art is made in song, in paint, in photograph, and in every kind word, in every loving action. Listening to the creative energy of the universe and using that energy for kindness and compassion can heal a lifetime of wounds.  

True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art says, “Thinking goes as far as the mind understands. Then what? Art.”

Change for the good of all goes only as far as our ability to create compassion.  Then what? Art.

The Silence in the Shattered Glass

guest post by Andria Davis, Acting Senior Minister at Church of the Beatitudes in Phoenix, Arizona

In order to enter the main buildings of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, a visitor must walk down the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations.

Situated in the middle of a large garden, this tree-lined walkway and the surrounding landscape commemorates those many non-Jews who risked their lives and their livelihoods in order to save Jews from the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

As you walk down the Avenue and stroll reflectively through the winding paths that weave through the surrounding garden, you may become overwhelmed with awe as you realize that each of the more then 2,000 trees that line the paths were planted to commemorate a unique person, and that each tree represents the life of one who worked diligently and under great threat to save the lives of countless others.

And as you walk through the garden, you may become overwhelmed with awe as you learn the stories of some of the thousands of names engraved on the stone walls that form the many coves and inlets, and when you hear the many stories of the ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

If you are like me, you may become overwhelmed with awe as you look around you, and you cannot see through the trees and benches and the signs and engravings, through those more than 25,000 markers commemorating those who worked diligently, ceaselessly to save the Jews from certain extermination.

I imagine that of many who walk down the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations or who take time to sit with names that fill the garden walls, that they are as much overwhelmed by the stories of those remembered there, as they are by their own answers to the question: in the same situation, would I have done the same?

Would I have opened my door to that frantic knock in the middle of the night? Would I have opened that hidden passage in my house? Would I have secretly employed those fleeing for their lives and would I have arranged for their escape? Would I have said yes when the call came, or would I have said no?

A few years ago, as I sat in that Garden, I wanted to so badly to say that I too would have been counted among these who risked their lives to choose good instead of evil.

I wanted so badly to know that when faced with an impossible decision between my life and the lives of many others, the pursuit of safety for the many would have been the only pursuit I could follow.

I so badly wanted to be assured that when faced with the decision between what is right and what is wrong, I would always choose the hard path of righteousness and integrity over the easy path of complacency and status quo.

Above all, I wanted to know with conviction that when the world goes to pieces and all goodness, and all peace, and all love seems gone, that I would follow unwaveringly in the way of Christ, who said as he did in today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, that it is better to sacrifice yourself in the name of justice, than to sacrifice another in the pursuit unreflective, unjust harmony.

In today’s passage, Jesus offers us a black and white way of living. He offers us a stark reminder of the obligations of one who calls him or herself a Christian.

Hear his words:

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” – Mark 9:38-50

For the faithful who strive to follow in the way of Christ, this is a black and white edict that comes to us who live in a much greyer world.

It comes to us in a world where right and wrong do not always appear so cut and dry and where our convictions sometimes have unintended consequences.

It comes to us in world where the small and individual injustice can build like a cancer, growing within us without our notice, that then spreads into the very blood and bones of our societal, religious and civic systems, unable to be amputated from us as we would a sick limb.

As you sit in the Garden of the Righteous Among Nations, among the trees and plaque commemorating the 25,000 brave souls who risked it all, life and limb, to save others, it’s hard to grapple with the thought that we ourselves might not have been so brave.

On the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, there is a quote from a named Martin Niemoller, who was a Lutheran minister in Germany during the Holocaust.

As a young man, he distinguished himself in the Navy as an officer and commander of a German U-Boat during World War 1. He was proud of his country and his service, but after Germany’s defeat in the first world war, he found himself at political odds with Weimar government.

Forced to give up his U-Boat and his office, he, like many Germans, felt like the changing government had abandoned him and all he stood for.

Disenfranchised, he sympathized with and supported the rising Nazi government.

Niemoller went on to pursue seminary and found himself in a prominent church in Berlin, where he was widely supported and his anti-Semitic sermons were well attended.

Quickly, however, Niemoller’s support for the Nazi government began to wane.

But It wasn’t the dangerous and xenophobic policies that were being solidified under the Nazi regime that ignited in him the spark of resistance, it was, instead, the Nazi interference in the life of the church and the removal rights of Christian of Jewish decent that caused him to take action.

It short, it was only when his own rights began to be infringed upon, that he spoke up.

Regardless of his motivations, his actions against the Nazi government were impactful and led to his arrest, apparently under orders from Hitler himself. Niemoller the spent the rest of the war imprisoned in concentration camps.

Unlike millions of others, Martin Niemoller survived the war imprisoned by the Nazis. His survival allowed him to live on into late life as an ardent anti-war activist, who spoke with ferocity about the importance of not remaining silent in the face of injustice.

His most famous quote, which is known in a few different forms, is inscribed on the Holocaust memorial in Boston. It reads as follows:

“They came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time, no one was left to speak up.”

I saw this quote shared widely this past Wednesday.

Among other things, it was the 78th anniversary of one of the defining moments of the Second World War, an event that is widely understood to be the beginning of the Holocaust as we know it.

On November 9th, 1938 Germans, fueled by anti-Jewish sentiment and supported by Nazi-issued propaganda, went on a rampage of terror that specifically targeted Jewish business, synagogue, and Jews themselves.

According to Nazi totals, 8,000 buildings across Germany were vandalized and defaced with anti-Jewish slogans and slurs. Nearly 100 Jews were murdered. Glass from widows strewn the streets, giving the event the name Kristallnacht – Crystal Night – the Night of Shattered Glass.

Two days later, on November 11, 30,000 thousand Jews were rounded up and deported to concentration camps at Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen.

This act brought to the surface the reign of terror that had already existed in Germany, and would soon be on the forefront of the minds of people across the world.

They say that hindsight is 20/20 – that when we know we now know, we can look back and feel confident about what we would have and could have and should have done.

That when we look back on that day, 78 years ago, we can proclaim boldly that had we known

Had we known that this is what the future held,

We would have stood up.

We would have spoken up.

We would have put our bodies in between rocks and widows,

and used our selves as human shields.

We would have opened our homes and our safe spaces to our brothers and sisters and we would have gathered, arm in arm, linked in front of the rail cars, the tanks and the trucks to do everything in our power and anything at all, to reorient the world toward justice.

It is that 20/20 vision in hindsight tells that it would have been us, doing just what Jesus called on us to do:

That if we had been there, on that pivotal day 78 years ago, it would have been us giving up our hands and our feet and our eyes that our brothers and sisters might have a future in which they could continue feel and walk and see.

It would have been us.

We would have fought and screamed and risen up and joined together.

It would have been us.

We would not have stayed silent.

But two days later 30,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to concentration camps. Over the next six years, millions more would take that same journey. Millions would die.

Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran Minister who devoted his life to follow in the way of Christ. And yet even as a follower of Christ, an ordained minister, he felt sympathy for the ideologies of the Nazi government – ideologies that tended toward pointing a finger rather than lending a hand; ideologies that would exclude people who thought and acted and believed differently than the prevailing power; ideologies that said that ‘whoever is not with us is against us,’ rather than the ideology of Jesus who declares “whoever is not against us, is with us.”

It wasn’t until the communities of which he was a part and Niemoller himself came under attack by those ideologies, that he began to take action against them.

For his life following the war, Niemoller is said to have lived with the guilt of not taking a stand against those forces of evil until they came knocking on his door, when all the networks and systems that were designed protect him and those around him, had been stripped away.

“They came for the Communists,” he wrote, “and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time, no one was left to speak up.”

On Wednesday morning, I read Niemoller’s quote attached to an article depicting the events of Kristallnacht, 78 years ago. By Wednesday evening, I had read the poem more times than I could count, shared not in response to the historical past, but to the real and pressing present, shared in response to events that had happened that very day.

She was shopping in Walmart. A woman came up to her and ripped her Hijab off her head. “this is not allowed anymore, so go hang yourself with it around your neck not on your head.”

            They came for my Muslim brothers and sisters,

but I did not speak out because I am not a Muslim

They woke up to a note on their car. “I can’t wait for your ‘marriage’ to be over turned.  Gay families burn in hell.” Signed ‘#Godbless.

            They came for my LGBTQ Brothers and Sisters

but I did not speak up because I am not LGBTQ

He came out to his car to find all four tires slashed.

She found hers covered in graffiti. “Go back to Africa you N word, you B word.”

A black baby doll was left in the gutter with a noose around its neck.

            They came for our Black brothers and sisters

but I did not speak up because I am not black.

She was walking to math class at her high school

She was pumping gas

She was getting coffee

She was heading home

“Why aren’t you gone yet?”

“Build a wall”

“Grab her by the…”

“I should kill you right now, you’re just a waste of air.”

            They came for our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives.

But I didn’t speak up because I am not a woman.

I didn’t speak up, not for my Muslim brothers and sisters, not for my Black brothers and sister, not for LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

I did not speak up for my immigrant brothers and sisters or my disable brothers and sisters. I did not speak up when it mattered the most.

As Christians, we must remember: they also came for Christ.

It wasn’t because he expressed a theological doctrine or dogma that ruffled the feathers of the powers that be, but because he spoke out for his brothers and sisters:

For the tax collectors and widows,

The prostitutes and the impoverished.

They came for Christ because he dared to say, “you matter” to those that society had pushed aside.

They came for Christ, but by then, Christ knew it was too late.

Jesus gave himself to the cross that no others should have to live and die as he did – that in his sacrifice, he could offer up a different view of the world – one in which all of God’s beloved creation lives in peaceful harmony befitting the kingdom of God.

But in his sacrifice, he did not absolve us, his followers, of our God given purpose in life and faith, that which is our salt and our saltiness.

He did not absolve us of our call to build around us world in which silence in the face of injustice cannot and does not prevail, where the evils xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and sexism are finally and eternally amputated from who and what we are; and a world in which all people are showered with the grace and dignity that is required to be shown all children of God.

You are the salt of the earth, he says.

But if salt has lost its saltiness, what good is then, but to thrown on the ground and trampled under foot. What good is it, if we, as Christians, do not share with the world our Christ-given call to stand behind and fight for our convictions of justice and peace?

You are the light of the world, he says. But what good is it if we should hide our light under a basket so that the world cannot see it and be shrouded in darkness. What good is it, if we do not illuminate a path forward with visions of love and hope?

How will you share your light? How will you season the world with the saltiness of God’s love?

My friends, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

We are the voices that ring out in the silence.

We are people who stand up to show the world that the Kingdom of God is real, and that peace and justice and hope and love are at its foundation.

It’s time to stand up. It’s time to speak out. It’s time to let our light shine. Amen.

 

A Transgender Trinity

by Karen Richter

Have you ever noticed what happens in the gospels when Jesus gets asked a question? The people ask “Jesus, THIS or THAT?” and his reply comes from the side always like a quick and sly slanting pass, pushing the question back on his audience. How many times does Jesus respond to a question with, “well… let me tell you a story about that…”? He has a tendency to leave everyone a bit bewildered, especially the disciples.

  • Who sinned that this man was born blind?
  • Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
  • Why does this Teacher eat with sinners and tax collectors?
  • Are you the One we have been expecting or shall we wait for another?

In his responses, Jesus begins the training of the disciples in non-dual thinking. Duality thinking that we find so natural and easy is the tendency in the human brain to see things in opposing pairs: good and bad; dark and light; male and female.

Easy, right? If I write the word up, you think “down.” It’s the way our brains are on auto-pilot.

Getting past this is tough work, and I have a lot of empathy for the disciples. In our own time, the Holy Spirit has taken over our training in non-dual thinking.

And the gentle leading of the Spirit over the generations is a gift to us – a gift that includes a strange and wonderful idea: that God’s nature is simultaneously 3 and 1. This seemingly esoteric and even outdated dogma can stretch us into new ways of thinking, if we let it.

There’s an Episcopal mystic whose books I sometimes muddle through – Cynthia Bourgeault. She talks about Trinity as PROCESS rather than PERSON. In other words, the Trinity is about how to think about things rather than about creed and doctrine. Trinitarian thinking is a reconciling approach that interweaves what at first appears to be a dichotomous choice. This kind of thinking is a spiral upward, beyond the either/or. When we get to an impasse – a problem, disagreement, decision – when we feel stuck, it’s an opportunity to look for a reconciling path, a third way.

And it’s this Trinitarian thinking, this PROCESS of sitting with mystery, that is so helpful when talking about gender. We have long misunderstood gender as an either/or scenario, driven by chromosomes and anatomy. The lived experiences of our friends tell us that we are wrong.

Knowing when we are wrong is useful information. What do we do next?

Well, moving away from the gender binary is a SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. If I have friends reading this, they are laughing at this point because I sort of think everything is a spiritual practice.

As with most spiritual practices, getting beyond the gender binary is about building a pause of awareness before our response. When we practice listening to others, when we practice holding open the question of another person’s gender (often this looks like letting go of our curiosity), when we let go of the need to put people into little boxes marked M and F, when we are willing to be vulnerable, willing to admit we’re going to get it wrong sometimes and we hate getting things wrong, when we practice – we train our brains to take a deep breath.

Breathe, and let go.

Over and over.

With much practice and patience, this makes us into a gentle welcoming people. We grow into the welcome that we profess, with trans and gender non-conforming people and with everyone!

A pediatrician friend and I were talking recently about kids who are late bloomers, shorter and smaller than their peers. She said that with her late blooming patients, sometimes there’s an appointment, after a period of growing, that their height and weight finally appear as dots on the standard growth chart curve. And they pause for a little celebration: “Yay! You’re on the chart!”

Just like the disciples, we’re beginners in the Trinity way of thinking – that kind of nondual thinking that led Jesus to respond to questions in that wacky way we love so much, the nondual, Trinity-shaped thinking that can be part of our learning about gender. WE ARE BEGINNERS, but we’re on the chart. Thanks be to God.

Notes and sources:

Cynthia Bourgeault’s book is The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity.

For fantastic transgender educational resources, see PFLAG’s Straight for Equality project at straightforequality.org/trans.

Why Religious Liberty Compels Me to Serve Everyone

by Ryan Gear

The Orlando tragedy raised the stakes between LGBTQ rights and religious liberty. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history targeted a gay club, and it did not take place in a vacuum. Far from being an isolated act, the massacre is an eruption of violence out of the heated rhetoric against the LGBTQ community that has come from politicians and pulpits alike, around the world and in the U.S.

Those who deny shared responsibility would have to prove that Dr. King’s assassination had nothing to do with racism and that date rape has nothing to do with a “bro culture” of misogyny. The Orlando mass shooting took place in a time of intense political and religious rhetoric against the LGBTQ community, one in which some business owners go so far as to seek legal grounds to deny service to same sex couples. As we have learned from every civil rights struggle, rejecting and demonizing others breeds violence, both physical and verbal, and now the families of the 50 shooting victims are grieving the loss of their loved ones.

In his June 8 Arizona Republic op-ed, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jonathan Scruggs suggested that religious liberty entitles business owners to deny service to same sex couples on religious grounds. Mr. Scruggs represents the owners of Brush & Nib Studio owned by two women who self-identify as Christians and sell customized art, including pieces used in weddings. The owners are suing the City of Phoenix, claiming that the city’s anti-discrimination law, requiring their business to serve same sex couples, is a violation of their religious liberty.

I used to see this issue similarly to Alliance Defending Freedom, but I changed my mind.

I grew up in a conservative evangelical Christian home in the 1980s and 90s, with my views of the Bible, politics, and the LGBTQ community formed by the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. While a student in high school, however, my views were confronted with new evidence. I discovered that two of my close friends were gay. Confusing to me, they simply did not fit the description of a person who is gay that had been given to me by Religious Right televangelists. After knowing them for years, I found it hard to believe they chose to be gay. In fact, I knew one my friends didn’t quite fit the normal boy-girl mold when we were in the first grade. I was confident that he didn’t make a choice prior to being six years old, and I struggled to make sense of my religious views in light of my friendships.

Then, for an entire week during my sophomore year of high school, I witnessed a young male student endure a level of bullying on the school bus route that I will never forget. One Monday afternoon, the school bus stopped to drop off this young man at his house, and a few of the kids on the bus spontaneously began chanting “faggot” at him as he walked toward the front of the bus. Every day that week, the number of students joining in the chant grew, and by Friday, nearly every student on the bus was yelling “faggot” at this young man for a solid minute. It was a painfully long time. After dropping him off on Friday, the bus driver finally put a stop to it. Thankfully I can say that I never joined in the chant, but I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t defend him either. Perhaps that’s one reason I feel compelled to speak out now.

After several years of dissonance between my fundamentalist upbringing and my daily experience of life, while already serving as a pastor in my mid-twenties, I had a crisis of faith. For the first time, I began seeking answers to the questions I had sidestepped earlier. Among other theological issues, some of my questions centered on how we interpret the Bible on issues like science, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. I also realized that certain Bible passages seem to be used more than others for political purposes. Regarding LGBTQ rights, I could only make sense of my experience of the world and my questions about the Bible by recognizing the dignity and worth of each person in the LGBTQ community, and I affirm loving, committed same sex relationships.

The questions I asked in my twenties apply directly to the current debate surrounding religious liberty in America, and there are several points I believe Christians must consider.

First, in contrast to the view of the Bible I had been taught as a child, that the Bible was essentially written by God and that apparent contradictions could be harmonized to make the Bible read like a logically airtight divine term paper, I began to see the human influence on the Bible. In fact, the Bible is a collection of books written by various authors, more like a library than a term paper, and no one would expect all of the works in a library to agree with one another on every topic.

Second, regardless of what each Christian believes about same sex relationships, almost no American Christian obeys all New Testament commands. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul cites six reasons women should wear head coverings during worship gatherings. Of course, very few American Christians retain this practice. Also in this passage, it seems that women are permitted to pray and prophesy during worship, while in 1 Corinthians 14:34, women are commanded to remain silent. Again, this raises questions about biblical authority and how to thoughtfully interpret the Bible consistently. The role of women in worship is still a difficult subject for many Christians.

Third, regarding same sex relationships, compared to the controversy surrounding the issue in our culture, the Bible says shockingly little about them, and the context of these verses is extremely important. There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible — only six or seven of those appear to condemn same-sex relationships. Sometimes referred to as the “clobber passages” because of their unfortunate misuse, these passages were influenced by ancient culture, as was the whole of the Bible.

In contrast, over 2,000 verses in the Bible address the injustice of poverty. If one were determined to pass laws based on the Bible, legislation giving greater opportunity to the poor would likely be first on the list. Unfortunately, it seems that instead of addressing poverty, some leaders and groups have used these six or seven clobber passages out of 31,000 verses for political purposes.

The American understanding of religious liberty means that we are each free to hold our own religious views regarding LGBTQ rights. In fact, the pilgrims who settled the earliest American colonies immigrated to the New World to escape theocracy. The earliest settlers in the colonies were religious separatists who did not want to be forced to worship in the state sponsored Church of England. To them, religious liberty meant that they could practice their own religion instead of being forced to practice the religion of the state.

This is at least partially why, in American courts, religious liberty has generally not been used as grounds for a business owner to deny service to her or his customers.

A 2016 report from The Leadership Conference finds:

“Courts have generally declined to recognize a religious right to discriminate that would trump a government’s interest in combating discrimination. In a 2013 case involving a wedding photographer, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld a finding that the business had violated the state’s human rights ordinance by refusing to photograph a same-sex couple’s commit­ment ceremony.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Richard Bosson wrote that the business owners ‘are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish, they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead.’ But, he said, in operating a business, the owners have to channel their conduct, calling it a compromise that “is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.” It is, he wrote, “the price of citizenship.”

In the United States, business owners cannot legally deny service to persons based on their religious differences or sexual orientation, and the Phoenix anti-discrimination law will likely be upheld. Religious liberty does not entitle a business owner to deny service to any population.

Religious liberty does mean, however, that Christian business owners have the freedom to wrestle with issues of biblical interpretation according to their own consciences, as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others. In fact, it is the American concept of religious liberty that gave me the freedom to change my mind and affirm the dignity, worth, and rights of same sex couples.