TW for anti-lgbtqia+ so called “conversion therapy,” spiritual-sexual abuse, suicide
I was 18, a Michigan girl who had flown to New York City for college, the dire warnings of “If you don’t leave now, you never will” still ringing in my ears. My nearest family was 3 states away and the comfort and stability of my church family felt like a million miles distant. A hallmate, also rather lonely and seeking community, asked me to go with her to attend an introductory meeting for a campus Christian group. The banal and pop-tinged music was played by a ruggedly handsome boy with a mop of curls, an earnest smile, and an acoustic guitar. There were hugs and warm smiles and free pizza. It felt…nice.
The carb-laden sing-a-longs became Bible study group, Sunday night gathering, worship team rehearsals, and hang-outs. School, even the Big Apple itself, was becoming more comfortable to me. So was spending time with my judo sensei, a strong and charming tomboy-ish woman from sunny California. I enjoyed spending time with her so much, that I mentioned it to the curly-haired crooner, who was also now my Bible study leader. He listened thoughtfully, hugged me with affection and seeming understanding, and encouraged me to attend a winter gathering of fellow students from a few other schools. It would be good to get away, he insisted, to experience some great prayer and praise, and to gain some clarity.
Clarity was apparently waiting for me in the knee-deep snow of a middle American state. A place I was transported to in someone else’s car, long before the days of cell phones being affordable to broke college students. I was assigned a metal bunk bed in a room of several other strangers. Breakfast came before dawn, the next day and for several days after. Days of hours of long prayer in crowded rooms with uncomfortable chairs. Days of repetitive music on speakers louder than thought. Days of testimony of “changed lives” and “surrendered sin”. The talk was vague. I was separated from my friends and anyone else I knew, except for my group leader checking in on me each day at dinner. I was cold. I was hungry. This place made me uncomfortable. I wanted to go home. Instead, I was told I was ready for “the prayer room”. A special seminar, he said. Sexual Healing.
A small group of us, indicated by group leaders and pointed fingers and hushed whispers. A darkened room with a concrete floor. Frigid cold, empty of furniture except for metal chairs and crosses. A circle of murmuring humans surrounding us. A laying on of hands that pushed me to the floor. Pressing that became restraint, then pain. Cries of prayer that became louder with every ‘no’, with every ‘stop’, with every ‘please stop, just let me go’. A separate, even smaller room for each of us. Still-near-children, now alone, cries of prayer that continued long after our very real tears had stopped.
They prayed in shifts. There was no one to relieve me. I broke in less than 12 hours. To this day, my weakness shames me. I begged God to take away whatever had made me deserving of such shaming, needful of such prayer. I ate, slept, spoke like a robot, moved slowly and mechanically throughout the strange space throughout the next day. I was allowed back to my metal bunk, to the mass sessions of prayer and song. My group leader smiled approvingly at me from across the room. I rose without conscious thought. I walked without feeling or intention. I knew I was dirty. I was aware only of an uncontrollable compulsion to get clean. I made it back to my bunk, to the industrial, open showers. In the metal stall, under scalding hot water, I suddenly realized I was fully clothed. And still gay. That’s when I wept. The kind of slack jawed, snot-releasing, hiccup-causing, soul-deep howls that reveal a broken soul.
I had prayed. I had obeyed. I had surrendered. Hadn’t God promised that if I prayed, if I believed, that I would be heard? I must truly be beyond hope, beyond saving, outside of God’s grace. All the pain of my childhood, my broken family, the weight of my every failing, real or perceived, fell upon me at once. Because hope died in that shower stall. There was no heaven for me. No relief that would ever end this pain, even in death. There was only this life, and an aloneness I hadn’t known since praying the prayer that made the Holy Spirit my best friend at 5 years old.
The rest of that night is blurry for me. I know my mother and uncle drove through a snowstorm on New Year’s and found me in a diner with a pay phone after a 5 hour drive. I know I left the church for more than a decade, punishing my body and my spirit every way I knew how, until God reminded me that if this was who I was, it was who God created me to be, knit together with the beauty of Psalm 139. I know that I made it out alive, barely, but my duet partner did not. He turned to drugs and needles and HIV then AIDS. I know that my first “boyfriend” did not. He took a fistful of sleeping pills and duct taped a plastic bag around his neck rather than live to see his disappointed family. I know that this is the cold, chest-gripping fist I feel on the rare nights I still wake up in a sticky sweat, 20 years later. I know that, as a proud and unapologetic queer person, this is a memory I must carry with me into board rooms and court rooms as very public and very media-accessible fights for conversion therapy bans, and non-discrimination protections, and adoption rights are being fought in America, in Pennsylvania, in 2018.
So many broken souls at the feet of the church. Souls you would have to dig six feet into hard-packed earth to make reparations to. And mine is just one of the thousands of conversion or “repairative” therapy realities still healing, still being prayed through, within our repenting and rebirthing church.
Carla Christopher is a culturally Jewish, Episcopalian-raised, Lutheran AF, Black/German/Hint of Mexican queer community organizer and cultural educator turned first-year seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary – Gettysburg.
The following letter is from ReCharge and Dismantling Racism: Beloved Community (DR:BC)–two student organizations on the campus of Luther Seminary. ReCharge and DR:BC wrote this to the Student Council Executive team in response to their invitation to attend recent listening sessions about concerns of racism at the seminary. This is published here with the permission of the signatories. Decolonize Lutheranism stands with these students in their call for action.
A majority of the minoritized/marginalized students will not be attending this meeting. It was brought to our attention that President Steinke might interpret our absence as if we do not care. To that we would like to respond by saying: We have been creating safe spaces, table conversations and talking circles for the last 2 years addressing the problems that we all have been experiencing. During these 2 years President Steinke nor any of her representatives have attended any of our meetings. The staff/faculty members that have showed up are the same staff/faculty members that are still showing up and helping to create the space and conversation along side us. During these two years we have come to the conclusion that President Steinke does not care about our experience in this institution. Within the last year racism has elevated to an all time high, the passive-aggressive racism within the faculty, staff & students have become way too familiar.
From our perspective, their injustices go unanswered and unpunished while any black/African American staff that gets hired lasts less than 6 months because of their failure to “do their job”. Talking has been the theme since we began attending in this institution. It has been occurring for decades before we got here. We talk & talk until we graduate and move on and nothing really gets fixed. We decided not to attend this meeting because we are tired of listening to empty promises, words without meaning and with no intent of action. We do not want to talk if it will not be followed by action. We do not want to hear you say or promise change, we want you to show it & prove it; We are visual learners. In the meantime, we will continue to pray for God’s presence in this institution; That the spirit’s grace turns hateful hearts into loving ones, and that our creator provides courage to the ones in positions to make Luther Seminary a proper representation of Christ’s love knowing that our redeemer forgives those who trespasses against us. We will pray for God to give us the strength to persevere as the oppressed, as the chosen ones and as children of God. May Justice prevail.
Grace, peace, and mercy are yours in the Triune God. Amen.
It is an honor and a joy to be joining you all here today. Three years ago during this fall semester I wrapped up my time here at Luther as a Master’s of Divinity student. So it’s fun to get to visit my alma mater here and form relationships with the next wave of public Christian leaders who will be transforming the church. It filled me with hope for the church to spend time with the students here throughout the day yesterday, especially a few of your classmates who are gender diverse and do not identify as female or male. In my work with seminarians on this campus and throughout the church, it is clear to me that the reformation movement is alive and well in Christ’s Body.
It is also an honor and a joy to be speaking with you today as a transgender Lutheran pastor. You see, when I was born I was named Mary Christine and raised as a girl. My parents dressed me up in pretty dresses and took me to modeling auditions. At Church, I learned about Hell and homosexuality, and what it meant that I was a woman. I learned that women were to be silent at church and that God made women as the weaker vessel to be men’s helpers. And I was taught that was what the Bible said so it had to be that way. Funny enough, that was actually the one reason I was grateful to be a woman – I thanked God that I would never have to lead worship, it was so dreadfully boring. I think God’s still laughing.
When I was about 5 years old I began hurting myself on purpose. I would do things like scrape my knees and elbows on purpose. No one ever suspected anything because I as a tomboy I was always skating and climbing trees and doing all sorts of things that could result in scrapes and bruises. Eventually I was cutting and burning myself.
It became a pesky habit that I didn’t know how to quit. Truth be told, I didn’t want to quit so it continued through my teenage years and into college. There was something about the blood, the pain, the open wounds that was comforting to me. It’s uniquely comforting to take the pain that you’re feeling internally and make it tangible and visible, even if only for yourself.
I knew that something was deeply inexplicably wrong. But there was nothing in my life to affirm that. Everything was supposed to be fine. Everything was fine. Except for me. So I looked around for something that might help me understand why what I felt on the inside didn’t match what was going on the outside. Church didn’t help with all the smiling faces.
I had never heard the word transgender and I had no language for what was going on inside of me. What I couldn’t do with language, I did with my body. All those feelings of pain, and shame, and self-hatred had to go somewhere, but when I looked around I found nothing on the surface of my life to show or express them. My body was the only thing I had to help me make sense of things. The physical pain was the only means I knew to affirm the inner pain I couldn’t name or explain. Others might not see it or understand it. I may not understand it. But my body was doing what it could to show me that my pain was no less real than my wounds.
And then later on as I kept trying to understand myself, I started thinking that I must be crazy. When everyone treats you like someone you’re not, you eventually start to feel crazy. So I went to go see a therapist to help make me more normal, more straight. She tried to convince me that I was a beautiful daughter of God. And I tried to believe her. I was suicidal, I nearly dropped out of college, I overdosed on sleeping pills, I stayed with a man who yelled at me and hit me because I figured no one else would ever be attracted to me.
Now I am a wildly privileged white person. I grew up with access to quality education, affordable healthcare, and access to safe housing. So I don’t say any of that to make you feel sorry for me. But just imagine. If as a privileged white person I have encountered all of this, can you imagine what it must be like for transgender and gender non-conforming people of color who don’t have easy access to the resources that I did? You can begin to see how people might become sex workers, or become addicted, or stay in abusive relationships, or end their own lives.
The vast majority of names on the list we talked about earlier of the 325 of our transgender siblings killed during this past year both within the U.S. and around the world belong to transgender or gender non-conforming people of color, particularly ones outside of the United States. And so that is part of why I chose the reading about Joseph from Genesis.
You’ve all probably heard of Joseph’s “Technicolor Dream Coat” from Genesis. The word there used for the robe or the garment that Joseph wore is also the word used for the garment that Tamar wore in 2 Samuel. So it could be translated coat of many colors. It could be translated robe. It could be translated princess dress. Who knows?
So I heard this slam poem written by a queer person of color named J. Mace III. And I’d like you to listen to it.
She asks if she can talk to me about Jesus at 3 a.m. on the C train
because something about my queer face means
clearly I’m on a path straight to Hell
I’ve come to expect this type of reaction
at least once a week
since the first time I was exorcised at 16
I’ve grown tired
and I’ve decided it is my turn to proselytize
So before you do any of that
I want to know from you
Have you heard the good word about
Joseph of Genesis?
Jo of Genesis
favorite child of Jacob
what you wanted
you desired one thing:
a kethoneth passim
Pastor called this a royal coat
I had never read the Bible before
found you and kept reading
I got to 2nd Samuel
and realized your coat of many colors
was a princess dress
your father must have really loved you
Because he got it for you
and you wore it with pride
when your brothers saw you
in your flowing dress
in your glory
they became enraged
I am sorry for the beating you received
Sorry they destroyed your dress
and smeared it with the red paint of your swollen veins
did you know they told your father you were dead
so he’d never come looking for you
Never knew your brothers
sold you as a slave into Egypt
and once you were stolen from your home fields
the earth dried up
the very ground on which you walked
mourned the loss of its genderqueer child
and all the plants died
and the animals no longer had the will to live
your family nearly starved
Saw the formation of ribs
where once grew flesh
and belly fat
hungry and desperate
traveled into Egypt
And what must they have seen, Jo?
See, in Egypt people discovered you
not as fag
not as tranny
They saw you in totality
You went from slave
to leader over lands
there you were Josephine
You looked magnificent
Your family couldn’t even recognize you through the glare of divinity
But you saw them shivering in fear
waiting to hear what this regal leader might say
Wondering if your spirit might see fit
to grant them the grain needed to survive
love broke through
the darkness of resentment
And for the first time
your family saw you
for it was your word
that saved them from starvation
Dear Joseph of Genesis
I am claiming your story
for every queer kid told
they are unholy
for every queer told
in order to love
we must let our faith die
I am going to put it in a pocket
over my heart
next to Ruth & Naomi
next to David & Jonathan
next to Hegai & Deborah
and seat them at the last Passover
with Jesus and Lazarus
I am taking Jesus with me too
To you who claim your words are from God
but whose book is pledged to King James
know what allegiances you keep
You’ve been lying about my people for too long
Beautiful. Isn’t it? It can be beautiful when we see history in a different light. And these stories of reconiciling. These stories around the world not only of transgender people who have been murdered but of transgender people who are living and thriving, these are stories that need to be raised up. Because ultimately we’re in a church that needs reconciliation. A church that doesn’t want to talk about difference, doesn’t really want to talk about diversity.
Christ ultimately will not be bound by any person’s conscience, nor by the pages of history. Christ will not be bound by bathroom laws. And the Body of Christ will not be divided against itself. We learned from Jesus that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And we learned from Paul that as parts of the Body of Christ we are members of one another. We don’t always understand one another. We certainly do not look like one another. We all bring different gifts and function differently. And in spite of what the world tells us, the Holy Spirit has taught us that as members of one another, our differences are gifts. We need one another.
Christ’s Body is wounded when we pretend that other parts of the body are not there. Christ’s Body is wounded when we can’t name the other parts of the body because we’re embarrassed.
But here’s the good news: Creation didn’t stop in Genesis, it kept going. Whether Joseph was queer or not, God is still re-creating and reforming us. When we do see one another, when we affirm one another, when we name one another in all our glorious differences, the Word becomes flesh once again. In our flesh, we behold the glory of God, when we name one another and our differences as gifts for our work together.
This is our witness of healing, of reconciliation, and of wholeness. God’s creation did not stop in the Garden of Eden in creating Adam and Eve. In Jesus Christ, God has made a new Body, a new creation even more glorious than the first. And in this Body, we have the most precious grace of becoming ourselves. Amen.
God is with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to God.
Let us give thanks to God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is indeed right our duty and our joy
that we should at all times and in all places
give thanks and praise to you,
We thank you, divine Seamstress
for you never stop creating.
From the dawn of time, to our mother’s womb, even in the age to come,
your creativity is as endless as eternity.
Today you are knitting us your people
into a garment of many colors.
We thank you, Holy Spirit,
for you do not allow us to grow complacent.
You stir up dreams and visions within us
making us restless for a new Heaven and a new Earth.
You clothe us with power to bring these dreams to life.
In you, we are beginning to see all things anew.
We thank you, Christ our Savior,
for your wondrous transformation,
Word made into flesh.
You challenge us with foreign experiences
teaching us that those we thought were strange and cut off
are members in your holy body.
And so with all your people of every time and place,
This post was written by the Rev. John Longworth for ACE/ARO (Asexual/Aromantic) Awareness Week
When the well-meaning 7th grade classmate turned to me and said “do you think I’m cute?” and I honestly said “no’, and thus provoked she asked me , “well, do you think Nate is cute?” and I honestly said “no”, I was not broken.
When I was bullied and gay-baited as a youth, and my own denials left me more confused and alone, I was not broken.
When I talked and played cards with my date on prom night, I was not broken.
When I had my first crush on a guy, then on a girl, and mostly on no one at all, I was not broken.
When I got dumped after a few dates more than once because it wasn’t “going anywhere”, I was not broken.
When I survived a bad relationship with terrible boundaries, I was hurt, but I was not broken.
When I cherished consent so much that I asked my current partner to hold her hand on our second date, I was not broken.
When I married my best friend who is phenomenal at boundaries and consent, I was not broken.
When I finally discovered the community that used language that described my life with startling accuracy, I was not broken, I was whole.
Even so, my church has not always been so sure. From the candidacy committee member who was worried that my multiple piercings would mean that we needed to have “the talk”, to the countless church members in my first call who wondered when a baby would be on the way, to thousand insinuations that only married adults with children properly constitute a family. Something seems to give away that my experience and my being are not typical, and yet since my experience isn’t easy to name, the uncertainty turns into erasure.
Roughly 1% of the population identifies as asexual, sometime represented by the shorthand term “Ace”. I do not and cannot purport to speak for the whole spectrum of people who lay claim to this identity, which includes people who experience sexual attraction only with intense emotional bonds (demi-sexual), or only rarely (graysexual), or not at all. This is different from celibacy, which is a behavior choice. It’s the difference between not getting anything out of drinking coffee, and choosing not to drink it to cut down on caffeine even though you might like coffee.
Aces can have varying attitudes on sex itself, from sex-repulsion to sex neutrality to sex positivity. Some engage in sexual activity with a partner to care for that person, others do not. Not experiencing or rarely experiencing sexual attraction might make it harder for an Ace to understand the way sex works in sexual people’s relationships, but this doesn’t mean we can’t be strong proponents of consent and healthy sexual expression for others.
Aces describe a variety of romantic sensibilities. Some long for close, loving and affectionate (though not sexual) relationships with people of the same gender (homoromantic), a different gender (heteroromantic), more than one gender (biromantic) or irrespective of gender (panromantic). I would imagine that a pansexual person would quickly correct the assumption that they are sexually attracted to literally everyone, and as a panromantic I would echo that basic sentiment. Being able to form romantic attachment to people regardless of gender doesn’t mean falling for everyone.
In addition, there are a people who experience themselves as Aromantic or Aro for short. They don’t experience the longing I have described here. At the same time, some Aro folks derive great joy from closely bonded platonic friendships.
How can the church honor and welcome Ace and Aro people? First and foremost, trust that they are children of God and that they aren’t broken. Celebrate Asexual Awareness week which is October 22-28 in 2017 and usually falls in the second half of October each year.
Don’t assume that everyone is dating or married to someone or that it is tragic if they aren’t. Don’t assume that all couples, including romantically bonded couples are sexual or will have children. Never again use the term “only friends” as a pejorative for a relationship. Find ways to celebrate and honor singleness as a valid relational calling. Find ways to lift up long term friends and platonic couples to honor their loving care for each other. Practice healthy boundaries and consent with all people.
John Michael Longworth is an ELCA Pastor, Brother in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, dog-walker, earth mystic and poet residing in Vermont. He tries to decolonize his mind through Holy Listening.
To learn more vocabulary and participate in the world’s largest online forum for the Aro/Ace community visit AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network) at asexuality.org
As a second generation Indian-American woman, I often times struggle with my identity in multiple spaces and how my story is told into these spaces. This is both tragic and comical, as much of my work and ministry deals with the perception of identities within church settings. But identity is extremely complicated; what are the labels with which we use to self-identify, but also, what are the labels that are then placed upon us by outside forces? Who gets to tell our story? As a person who longs for a sense of place in the world, how a story is told and who tells a story matters a great deal to me.
But what happens when your identity is controlled by outside forces that strip away your humanity on a multitude of levels? What happens when the words that define your flesh are taken away from you? When your sense of place becomes literally dislocated and your own home becomes a place of wilderness? What happens when your narrative, the ability to tell your story, is taken away from you?
My first exposure to this came, of all places, on the shuttle from Tel Aviv to the West Bank. I told the driver of the shuttle that I needed to get to the Lutheran guesthouse at Augusta Victoria Hospital on Mt. Scopus near Hebrew University. In my naïveté, I asked one of the trip leaders for the address to the guesthouse so I could give it to the shuttle driver. The response?
“LOL address. There aren’t addresses in the West Bank.”
The first time I was in the Holy Land back in 1996, I was in places that had addresses. During my stays in Arad, Netanya, and Tel Aviv, I had a physical sense of location. I had a place with a street, a street name, and a postal code where I could tell friends and family my location. But this trip was to the West Bank; everything was now different. With my previous trip to the Holy Land and my experiences with having a physical address in the United States that I call home, I was entering into a new narrative.
This is how you start to strip away a population’s identity. Take away what names you, take away parts of the world that help tell your story. Then tell a singular story of who has access to land, thereby silencing a cacophony of voices desiring to be heard and recognizing the complexity of histories. Control the narrative. Control how information is used and distributed. If you take away the physical identifier of location, could a person, a community, a population reside there if their very existence and claim to the land is in question? What happens when the place you call home… is not deemed or deeded to be your home? What happens when you start to believe the stories placed upon your identity, being fed words, thoughts, and ideas that are no longer your own? Elias Chacour, former archbishop of the Melkite Church, a person passionate about reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews, and a Palestinian dislocated from his home in 1948, asks, “What was the true story of Palestine?” In addition to that question, I wonder, who gets to tell the story that is heard by the masses?
There is not one single way to tell stories. If you have to fight for your story to be shared with the world, sometimes storytelling has to happen in a subversive and surprising way. I experienced identity and narrative in a way I wasn’t anticipating while in the Holy Land; yet they felt oddly familiar to me as a former parish pastor in Oakland, California. I saw narratives written and drawn on the walls of the West Bank, telling so many stories of resilience, of lamentation, and of existence. These narratives, while not verbal, represented a cacophony of stories wanting to be acknowledged by the greater world. The ultimate cacophony of these narratives, these stories, came at the security wall in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, where on Christmas Eve so many sing, “Oh little town… how still we see thee lie” is not still, but stifled. The town is located in the West Bank and it is almost entirely encircled by a concrete security wall and caught between two bypass roads giving Jewish settlers easier access to Israel. While one side of the wall was pristine, the other side was filled with stories. These narratives had a physical location where they could exist, an actual mark on the land that made a claim that the storyteller existed in this space at this time.
This was the proof of being, the proof of “I AM,” the proof that there are multiple stories in a land where there is an immense danger in telling one sole story.
This post originally appeared on Rev. Tuhina Rasche’s website as Defining Identity and is shared here with her permission.
When guilt, shame, and blame transform to curiosity, grief, and humility, a door to liberation flies open.
For the past year and a half, the congregation of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle has been on an intentional journey of humble learning and intentional AntiRacism training. This is not the beginning of their work. In many ways they have been immersed in the work for years as part of their ministry with refugees, people living on the streets, folks in recovery and advocacy for justice in the areas of poverty, food distribution and gender equality. But what has been new is the formation of an intentional team of people who call themselves the AntiRacism Team.
For a year the team led monthly forums for the congregation, providing baseline education on terminology such as; Whiteness, White Privilege and Intersectionality. They facilitated conversations to clarify understanding of Gender Identity as a spectrum just like Sexuality. They made space for stories to be told about the disparities of the criminal justice system and police brutality. They accepted an invitation to share their experience as a workshop for other congregations. All the while, they humbly claim no particular level of expertise, simply a desire and willingness to be accountable to one another and to continue to challenge the congregation.
The congregation has been warm and receptive to the work, seeking more than just 1-hour monthly forums. So the time came to do more. It was time for a retreat. The team, decided it was time to dive-in to the depths of #decolonizeLutheranism.
As their pastor, it is my humble joy to shepherd them in this work. So when they asked me to invite my beloved collaborator of holy chaos at Churchwide Assembly to come to Seattle and co-lead the retreat with me, there was only one possible response: HELL YEAH!
And so it was that this past Saturday that, the itinerant preacher, Rev. Tuhina Rasche, and the veteran youth minister with a social justice lens, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin, were reunited for a workshop titled: The Liberating Love of the #decolonizeLutheranism Movement.
PRISCILLA: Tuhina, Thanks for joining us in Seattle. My family is always happy to host you when you visit. But what were you thinking when you accepted this invitation to be here on your birthday weekend?
TUHINA: The Spirit works when the Spirit works. When I visited Seattle in March to meet with communities to talk about #decolonizeLutheranism, I mentioned that these are conversations that need to take place over time. I made a commitment to the people of Immanuel Lutheran and other communities where I spoke that I would return if they wanted to continue the conversation on what it meant to seriously work toward decolonizing the ELCA. The people of Immanuel wanted to continue that conversation, and they wanted to invite their ecumenical partners who are also invested in this work. The date that worked happened to be my birthday weekend. You promised me cake (I got two, as a matter of fact), but the work of liberation and love is a daily practice. I knew that I would be surrounded by my siblings in Christ to celebrate my birthday, but to also do the continuing work to profess the full inclusivity of God’s love in the world.
PRISCILLA: What surprised you most about your time in Seattle?
TUHINA: This is hard work. These are vulnerable spaces in which to reside. This is a work that will truly continue until Christ comes again. Yet the time that we spent together as a community wrestling with the brokenness of the world was a holy time… and it is a time that passed quickly. I often see tired faces following such retreats; at this retreat, I saw a look of yearning, of people wanting more and wanting to continue to explore these difficult and vulnerable conversations to make them into embodied action. I had people come up to me following the retreat stating they’re ready for even more.
PRISCILLA: I was deeply appreciative of your vulnerability as you shared your motivations and perspective on the history and origin of the #decolonizeLutheranism movement. Can you talk about what it means for you to share that story, not for the first time, but for the first time with this group of folks?
TUHINA: One of the aspects of my ministry with #decolonizeLutheranism is to model the sharing of holy stories. Many times, holy stories come from places of extreme vulnerability. Oftentimes, I am incredibly scared to show such vulnerability in front of people I do not know, and in predominantly white spaces. I have to remind myself of the theology of the cross, realizing that power can be found in vulnerability. If I am able to honestly invite people into a vulnerable and brave space, if people are invested in the work of love and liberation, I trust that they will follow. Part of sharing my story is talking about embodiment. When I share the story of my motivation for this ministry, I want people to know there is flesh attached to the words, that there are real lives that are risking their candidacy, their ministry, and their lives for this work. I am grateful that the story was held as holy within this community. I am also grateful that people were able to share parts of themselves and where they could see themselves within the narrative of #decolonizeLutheranism and parallel stories within their denominations.
PRISCILLA: One of the things I found most helpful was the conversation around permissions and invitations. The group was so deeply engaged and hungry for learning that we found ourselves jumping into stories that we thought wouldn’t come up until later in the day. Instead the Holy Spirit was totally in control of our day. It was so fruitful and unplanned.
TUHINA: Absolutely. No retreat or workshop I’ve ever led has been the same. I continue to marvel at the communities that continue to be formed through #decolonizeLutheranism. I also appreciate that people were so willing to be vulnerable and to come with a sense of wonder. I loved that so many questions came so early in the retreat; it was evident that the group was so ready and eager not just to learn, but also to embody love and justice in the world.
PRISCILLA: On a personal note, I want to thank you for sharing your birthday weekend with us. There are moments in my life when I find myself feeling cynical or jaded by the world, even by the routine of the daily grind of ministry. But I stay in it because of moments like this weekend. Sitting next to you in worship, hearing you proclaim the word and watching you delight in praising Jesus was like a revival to my soul. Plus, without your visit, I might have never gone out to find the statue of Jimmy Hendrix. Traveling and partnering with you in ministry and life is such a blessing.
I Hope You’re Somewhere, Praying
A Meditation on Kesha’s “Praying” Music Video
“Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why were there knees to receive me,
or breasts for me to suck?
Now I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest…
Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child,
like an infant that never sees the light?”
“Am I dead?
Or is this one of those dreams?
Those horrible dreams, that seem like they last forever?
If I am alive, why? Why?
If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere,
why have I been abandoned by everyone and everything
I’ve ever known, I’ve ever loved?…
God give me a sign, or I have to give up.
I can’t do this anymore.
Please just let me die.
Being alive hurts too much.”
A victim’s story is only theirs to tell. No one else—not the victimizer, not a judge, not a jury, not the court of public opinion—can tell it. No one else can tell a victim how to react, how to move forward, how they should or shouldn’t behave.
Unfortunately, all too often, we do just that. We blame victims for what was done to them and refuse to hold victimizers and abusers accountable. And then, when we have collectively decided it’s ‘over,’ we demand that victims forgive and forget, that they move on. We expect them to fit a specific, saint-like mold of infinite patience and beatific smiles. We don’t want them to be angry. We don’t want them to show us their scars, physical or emotional or spiritual. We don’t want to be reminded of what happened—even if they are unable to forget.
Last week was completely upended for me when Kesha released her new music video, “Praying.” I will be honest and say I never expected a music video to have such an impact on me. My first reaction when I saw the link was, “Oh, she’s back! I’m so glad she’s finally able to make music again.”
Then I started watching the video. If you haven’t watched it yet, if you’re not sure what the buzz is about, go watch it. Right now. This piece will wait ‘til you get back.
It begins in a twisted parody of a funeral, no music. Kesha asks, “Am I dead?” Floating on debris in an empty ocean, she says, “If I am alive, why? Why? If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere, why have I been abandoned?”
I don’t know if Kesha meant to create a lament in the ancient tradition of the Hebrew Bible, but that’s what it sounds like. It is a voice that cries out from the deepest, darkest places in the human experience. Like Job, like the lament Psalms, she questions God and begs for an end to her suffering. “Please just let me die,” she says. “Being alive hurts too much.”
There is a reason the ancient laments still resonate in our modern ears. We know suffering. We know darkness. We know what it feels like to cry in the dead of night “Why God, why?” and mean it as an accusation.
On the cross, Jesus cried out in the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He died a death of pain and humiliation and injustice. His body was laid in a tomb. His disciples grieved. This was not the end of the story.
In “Praying,” Kesha does not stay in that desolate, black-and-white ocean. She does not stay in the hellish funeral. She wears a feather boa and angel wings and a veil of butterflies, and covers her face with brightly-colored paint.
It’s a resurrection story. An Easter story. Or in the words of the Psalms, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Kesha moves from death to new life. She starts out in lament, but she finds her voice and sings (and my God, does she sing). 
This is a resurrection story. It’s also a reconciliation story. Not in the simplistic, simpering way we want victims to reconcile with their victimizers. Kesha doesn’t forgive and forget, she doesn’t move on, she doesn’t make nice with the man who tormented her. She doesn’t apologize to us, her audience, for making us uncomfortable or for not being a ‘perfect’ victim (as if there were such a thing). She is beautifully, brutally honest, and it’s powerful to watch.
How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked for forgiveness? How do you forgive someone who is unrepentant, who perhaps would deny that they’ve done anything that needs forgiving? How do you reconcile with someone who abused you and could abuse you in the future? There are no Bible-school answers for these questions.
Kesha sings, “You brought the flames and you put me through hell. I had to learn how to fight for myself. And we both know all the truths I could tell. I’ll just say this as I wish you farewell—I hope you’re somewhere, praying. I hope your soul is changing. I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees, praying.” This is probably the kindest message she could possibly send to her abuser. She’s not interested in making him feel better. She’s certainly not interested in sharing the burden of guilt. But she hopes that someday, he realizes he needs to repent. She hopes that his soul changes. And when that day comes, it’s not her whose forgiveness he should seek: “Some things, only God can forgive.”
In the depths of hurt and betrayal, it may be impossible to offer forgiveness. Our culture tells us “forgive and forget,” and if we can’t forgive, can’t forget, it seems like a personal failure. Yet even Christ on the cross didn’t tell his murderers “I forgive you”—he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” When we are unable to forgive, the only thing we can do is turn forgiveness over to God. When we cannot forgive and forget and move on, maybe we can move forward by handing the responsibility of forgiveness over to God.
What is so powerful about “Praying” is that it’s not about the abuser. It’s about Kesha. It’s about her healing, her new life. She hopes he’s somewhere praying. But what we get to see is Kesha, praying. Standing up, breaking free, clothing herself in color. Moving from death to life. Walking on water, looking towards the sun.
A Postscript on Religious Imagery
I could go on and on about the religious symbolism in this video. In addition to what I’ve already said, I’ll just add two more observations—one in the form of critique, and one in the form of appreciation.
I love this music video. I think Kesha misstepped, though, in appropriating elements of Hinduism. I’m assuming Kesha is not Hindu. But the font she uses for the title card and at the end of the video is an anglicized version of Hindi. And the multi-colored dust she throws looks like the dust from a Holi festival. I’m not Hindu, either, but as a Christian in the United States, I think we need to be very careful about using cultural and religious markers that aren’t our own. The bigger our platform, the more careful we need to be. As of this writing, “Praying” has over 12 million views, so that’s a pretty big platform. (Bigger than any audience I’ll ever preach to!)
I’ll end with one last image that spoke to me powerfully in this video. It’s the scene shot at Salvation Mountain (it’s a real place in California). This is where Kesha is wild and free and alive. It’s her Easter garden. Over this rainbow-colored monument rise the words, “God is love.” In a world where Christianity serves to abuse and enable abusers, this is the message we need to come back to again and again. God is love. If we need new life, then we need to turn to God who is Love. If we need forgiveness, then we need God who is Love. If we seek reconciliation or peace or a world where we don’t inflict violence on one another, then there are worse places to look than Salvation Mountain.
 For further reading, check out The Message of the Psalms by Walter Brueggeman. Brueggeman identifies three types of Psalms: Psalms of orientation, Psalms of disorientation, and Psalms of new orientation. They trace a movement from a comfortable status quo, through a crisis, and to a new equilibrium. The Psalms of new orientation reveal the Psalmist coming to a new understanding of themselves in relation to God and the world. After a crisis, a new life is rebuilt. As Kesha moves from lament to finding her voice, she is re-orienting herself and her identity.
The Rev. Jennifer Chrien
Pastor Jennifer is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). She served her first call at Our Saviour’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oxnard, CA, before being called to serve Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Simi Valley.
“In this room, also men were executed if they were deemed no longer useful to the Nazi. The methods of execution were varied. Sometimes a bullet was used, but our guide informed us that his captors had said many times that a bullet was too expensive a price to pay for the death of a slave. Poison gas or starvation was much cheaper.” — Corporal Norman Paschen, describing his experience of the Buchenwald concentration camp during its liberation in April, 1945
It is likely that you have heard White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remarks today in which he falsely asserted that Adolf Hitler never utilized poison gas during the holocaust and Second World War, and his subsequent apology in which he admitted that Hitler had murdered people with poison gas, but not “his own people,” and in which he refused to publicly name the concentration camps, referring to them instead as “holocaust centers.”
As Spicer is engaging in a maniacal spin campaign to attempt to mitigate the harm done to his career and the reputation of the White House by his remarks, it is crucial that we examine carefully what he actually said, and why his remarks carry historic impact.
The setting of his remarks were to defend recent American airstrikes of a Syrian airfield, and in doing so, he argued that Bashar El-Assad’s recent use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people was inexcusable, and needed to be punished. In doing so, he remarked that “You had someone who was as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” In his attempt at an “apology,”he doubles down on his claim, remarking that “I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people.”
As an American, a Christian, and a student of history, it is imperative that I speak the truth as loudly as I can in the midst of Spicer’s vile lies. Lest there be any confusion, I must make plain that Adolf Hitler most certainly did use poison gas on his own people. He did so tens of thousands of times, resulting in the deaths of millions. Sarin gas was invented, militarized, and utilized by Hiltler’s regime, though it is true that it was quickly replaced with cheaper and more effective substances, such as hydrogen cyanide and Zyklon B. Spicer’s remarks to the contrary are not accidental use of “insensitive references,” they are blatant and inexcusable lies.
For him to tell such lies on any day is appalling, but for him to do so during the commemoration of the Passover and on the very day of the completion of the liberation of the concentration camp at Buchenwald is inexcusable. To commit such an act of holocaust-denying and anti-Semitic theater on this day of all days is to do political and theological violence against the Jewish people.
As an American and a practicing Christian, who has been “grafted into the side of Abraham’s tree,” and who worships a Jewish savior, I must categorically demand Sean Spicer’s immediate resignation. I must also fervently request that all those in this country who carry the title of “Christian” join me in educating Mr. Spicer and the White House about the history of our nation and that of the Jewish people. The time for half-hearted and ham-handed apologies has long since passed. It is time for action. On behalf of the Jewish people, the Syrian people and all of G-d’s beloveds who are oppressed.”
Written by decolonizer Jess Davis on behalf of #decolonizelutheranism
(A re-setting of and tribute to The Barmen Declaration of 1934, presented as a reminder to the Churches of the United States on the inauguration day of Donald J. Trump)
Through the vehicle of this blog post – the central leadership of #decolonizeLutheranism has come together to re-affirm their confession of faith and dedication to the one, holy, apostolic church. In fidelity to our dedication to the reform and renewal of the church, we have sought a common message for the need and temptation of the church as a consequence of the run-up to and the result of the recent presidential election in the United States of America.
With gratitude to God we are convinced that we have been given a common word to utter – to express opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the Church catholic by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the leadership of #decolonizeLutheranism insists that any unity that has ever or will ever exist between the churches in the United States can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit and nothing else – not political power, nor wealth, nor celebrity.
Therefore we call upon all faithful Christians to bring themselves together in prayer and song, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers and lay leaders and friends and seekers who are loyal to the full and total acceptance of all people into the Church of God, over and above those who would preach otherwise. Or as we read so eloquently in Isaiah 58:6-12…
6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the Christian Church in the United States
The inviolable foundation of the Christian churches in the United States is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is attested for us in Holy Scripture and brought to light again in the Confessions of the Reformation and in the power of the lived experiences of all the people of God. The full powers that the Church needs for its mission are hereby determined and limited. All Christians in this country, indeed the whole planet, are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. We publicly declare before all of the Christian churches in the United States that the love for the Gospel that all who take the name of Christian claim to possess is now grievously imperiled, and with it, the future role of the Church in the United States.
It is threatened by the teachings and actions of those among the Christian communities who supported the current President-elect of the United States Donald J. Trump – through their vote. their financial contributions, or their voices, as well as through the administrative capacities of their churches, and the grave danger this man and his coming administration present to every marginalized community in our country. This threat consists of the fact that the primary theological basis upon which the churches are united has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “Christian Right” and those individuals and organizations who have attached themselves to their aims.
When these principles are held to be valid, then, when compared to the teaching of the Gospel in force among all Christians across the world and across time, the church ceases to be the church of all times and all people and becomes evil. As members specifically of the Lutheran communion, but also as partners in the workings of the Holy Spirit in our country among every denomination and confession, we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. And in view of the theological errors of Christians, we declare humbly and boldly that they are devastating the church and are also thereby hobbling the mission of the Christian churches in the United States.
And they do so because their support for Donald Trump and the destructive policies which he and his followers openly advocate, goes against the following truths which we confess, and which they claim to confess:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me” – and by doing so Jesus makes it clear to Thomas, and to all Christians, if one wants to know ‘the way’ to Christ, all they must do is follow Him” (John 14:6.) “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which Christians have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. This includes the state, political leaders, political parties, and celebrities.
2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.) As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures. We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but rather that belonged to political leaders, the wealthy, celebrities, or those that have power because of their works — as if justification and sanctification through Christ was not efficacious enough, and that faith in money in power are needed to save us as well.
3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15–16.) The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the church of pardoned sinners, it must testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance. We reject the false doctrine, the idea that the church can conveniently forget the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.
4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:25, 26.) The various offices in the church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give to itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers of any kind.This power, this authority is given to Christ alone, and cannot be usurped by Christian leaders for the sake of anointing of political candidates, celebrities, or those with power and influence – under any circumstance.
5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:17.) Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of those who govern and those who agree to be governed. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things. We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the church’s vocation as well. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State and a vehicle to further the works of Satan under a patina of ignorance, violence, and ostentatious piety.
6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (II Tim. 2:9.) The church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and – be they of the State, of political leaders, celebrities, or those who have money and power.
The central leadership of#decolonizeLutheranism– calling upon all of our friends, kindred, and allies in all churches here in this country and on the entire world – declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of the above listed errors. the indispensable theological basis of the true church of the people of God, as passed down through history, through Scripture, and in the hearts and minds of the faithful since the glorious, fiery day of Pentecost almost 2000 years ago. We invite all who are able to accept this declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in any and all places where those who call upon the name of Jesus are active in the world.
We entreat all who read this letter to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope – as well as to open places in their churches, homes, and hearts for those who will suffer under the promised xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, islamophobia, sexism, and racism of the in-coming administration.
And it must be our call, our duty, and our passion to do so.
Signatories (if you wish to add your name, email: firstname.lastname@example.org):
Francisco Herrera – Convener, #decolonizeLutheranism