LGBTQ

My Brother Kurt

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Rainbow ButtonI had a message pop up in Facebook the other day, my friend Kurt from St John’s had been poking around my blog and reading some of the things I have written on LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance. He correctly pointed out that I was a little out of date… he didn’t say “dude, you’re slacking off,” but he should have. He would have been right.

He also graciously offered me permission to share a short article he wrote this past year for St John’s on what it meant to be asked to help our parish organize a group to march in the annual Pride Parade in DC. He did a great job organizing, by the way… it was my first Pride Parade and I’m hooked.

Here’s the text of his article, and a few Parade photos… please receive it as a gift from Kurt, a brother in Christ, a humble man and a deeply good soul.

AMDG, Todd


Pride Parade Story by Kurt Ellison

It wasn’t long ago that someone stopped me and said, “So what’s the deal with the Pride Parade? Why is St. John’s marching?”

That is no small answer!

As a teenager that grew up at St. John’s, I could tell that we were definitely a church that was not of one mind about the whole gay issue. We had gay clergy, but when it came to choosing a new rector in 1997, St. John’s said overwhelmingly (in its profile survey) that it did not want a gay rector. (Yes, it’s true!)

As St. John’s wrestled with where it was and searched for a new rector, so I was wrestling with who I was – a gay kid who loved my church (and I still do). Living in Chicago as an adult, I found myself at the annual pride parade, and fascinated by the churches that were marching in the parade, and thinking, “Wow, my home church (St. John’s) would never do this!”

Years later, I moved back to the area to look after my ailing parents, I eventually came back to St. John’s and was curious to see how things had changed. Imagine my surprise when Susan Pizza and Sari Ateek eventually asked if I would write a grant for the Norwood Parish Fund to get us to participate in Pride.

I had to think for a while, and pray seriously about it. I was the type of person to watch a parade, not necessarily march in one, much less write a grant proposal, or organize a contingent. In my prayers, I could picture God having a good laugh saying, “HA HA, Kurt! You thought St. John’s would never do this! Now you have to man up!” How could I say no?

I wrote the proposal to the NPF. It got approved (kudos to the NPF folks!). We bought frisbees with the church logo, a banner, and advertised in Crossroads. 25 people showed up to march. We had a blast!

The gay community does not always receive a welcoming message from churches (understatement!). Other churches, while supportive and inclusive are not necessarily putting their message of welcome out there. Marching in the parade tells a whole community that they are welcome at St. John’s. It is a positive risk for the Gospel.

What amazes me still after three years of marching is how grateful people are to see the churches marching in the Pride Parade. All along the parade route we hear time and again, “Thank you for coming!”, and “Thank you, St. John’s!” In 2015 it is no small thing to say, “ALL ARE WELCOME HERE!”

Our pastor, Rev. Sari!

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…and the man of the hour, Kurt!

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Below is one I took at the Parade in 2016!

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You Are Not Alone

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new human logo button blackYou are not alone.

To every one of my Muslim friends and neighbors, you are not alone. The demonizing of your religion will not go unchallenged. Threats to discriminate against you because of your faith will not go unchallenged. You are our neighbors, friends and family. There are so many Americans, so many Christians, who will defend you.

To every immigrant, even those who came to us undocumented, you are not alone. We will still speak of your dignity and worth and celebrate our connection as human beings. You are our neighbors, our fellow humans, and you matter to us. Your children matter, and we will not leave them forsaken.

To every woman who feels that deep pain in their soul when men use and excuse demeaning language like “grab them by the pussy,” you are not alone. We will continue to hold people accountable for their words and actions. We will always speak of your value and we will defend your bodies and rights.

To every LGBTQ friend and neighbor, you are not alone. We have seen important civil liberties achieved in the last decade for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer minorities, and we will not sit idly by when those are threatened. You matter to us, and we will continue to safeguard your life and liberty.

To the millions who have healthcare for the first time, and those who finally have coverage even in the face of preexisting conditions, you are not alone. We will not sit idly by while your health is threatened by political games and rhetoric. We will fight for you and with you to keep the healthcare you so desperately need.

To our non-white friends and neighbors who have been vilified, faced condescension, and suffered demeaning, racist abuses, you are not alone. We will continue to stand with you for equality and truth. We will continue to work for a day when no one’s race or ethnicity is used as a weapon to disenfranchise, demean or discredit them.

To refugees around the world and those who have made it to US soil, you are not alone. We will not allow you to be further victimized by fear and suspicion, but will loudly proclaim your dignity, value and humanity. You are our sisters and brothers.

Those holding public offices change, but some things will never change. We will always stand together to create a better world, a safer world and a more beautiful world where our diverse gifts and shared dignity brighten every dark time. We will work harder each day to embrace love and accept our differences, and we will safeguard one another against all threats. We will stumble and we will misstep, but we will always rise and be better for our shared efforts.

You are not alone.

We Don’t Need More Violence

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50actsoflove squareA four-year-old blog post of mine on preachers inciting violence has been coming to mind lately in light of the recent events in Orlando, and the hate-filled preaching of some pastors. Violence is a sickness, especially violence shrouded in religious piety. More than ever, our world needs those who will love in the face of hate and work to heal the sickness of these preachers. I’m sharing a recent nasty example from a pastor’s Facebook postings, and then linking in my blog from four years ago on preachers who incite violence. Lord, have mercy.

Recent nastiness in the name of Christ…

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My post of four years ago: On Preachers Who Incite Violence

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.21.31 PMWe must loudly and strongly, with civil tongues and constant hearts, repudiate these voices and their messages. We must stand against these messages of hate and violence. Silence is not an option, no more than violence. Answer them with sure, true and sincere messages of love. May our voices never cease to sing and weave the story of God’s unending love.

AMDG, Todd

#50ACTSOFLOVE Campaign

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“Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable,
and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.”
Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine

50actsoflove square

This is my response to the Orlando shootings as a Christian and as a human being. I’m making a campaign in response to the deadly act of violence committed against  49 people at the Pulse Orlando night club in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, in Orldando, FL. How do you respond to such hatred? Such violence? Such darkness? You light it up. You light it up with love.

Light Up The Darkness With Love!

Let’s start a movement of people committed to honoring the lives of the people senselessly killed at the Pulse with 50 acts of love. Our acts of love will also honor those injured and can help support them and add to their healing, especially if you are close enough to give blood, hold a hand or be a listing ear.

Many of us are far from Orlando and lack ways to directly respond to Sunday morning’s violence and death, but the world where we live also needs our love. Communities across America and across the world produce mass shooters, hurting people, broken people, pain and darkness. Let’s light it up with our love.

We hurt with the victims of senseless hate and violence. We stand with our beautiful LGBTQ neighbors, friends and family against the hatred and violence that too often targets them. They deserve better and they deserve our support. We stand with our innocent Muslim friends, family and neighbors who now may be targeted for more hatred after the shooting. More hate is not the answer. 

Please feel free to share this graphic, use this graphic, spread it far and wide. Let’s all shine some light on the darkness!

Ideas for getting started with #50ACTSOFLOVE…

  1. give blood

  2. donate to a charity

  3. volunteer at a local school

  4. reach out to a long lost friend

  5. say something encouraging to someone

  6. help your child with their homework

  7. mow a neighbor’s yard

  8. pick up some neighborhood litter

  9. start recycling at home

  10. volunteer at a local food bank

  11. sit with a grieving friend or family member

  12. post a few positive articles on Facebook

  13. tell someone you love them

  14. send a greeting card to your grandparents

  15. find ways to support (too often homeless) LGBTQ teens

  16. find a local battered women’s shelter and donate time/money

  17. carry an extra $5 bill for the next street beggar who asks

  18. ask if your employer will match your charitable donation

  19. learn more about your Muslim friends and neighbors

  20. learn more about your LGBTQ friends and neighbors

  21. offer an apology you’ve been avoiding

  22. tell someone they’re beautiful today

  23. compliment a coworker on their job

  24. say thank you and mean it

  25. hold the door for someone at the coffee shop

Let’s open up our hearts, minds and imaginations to the potential of spreading love to everyone within our reach. Respond to the hate with love. Shine your light on the darkness. Believe in us.

AMDG, Todd

Transgender Day of Awareness

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Rainbow human logo buttonIt’s November 20th and the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. If it’s a new idea to you, to mark this day, then I invite you to take a long painful look at the violence and rejection faced by our transgender family and friends, neighbors across our nation and world, every single day.

Especially today we’re remembering that our words feed into a larger mass of intolerance, fear and ignorance that will metastasize into physical violence, injury and death.

I’ll emphasize two important things from my last statement:
1) I believe we all carry some responsibility for the violence and deaths when we speak rejection, speak hatred and speak intolerant judgment toward transgender people. Our words can either support and build or diffuse and remove the hatred and fear toward our transgender neighbors, and…
2) Violence will happen toward our transgender neighbors; this is not an if but a when situation. This means it is crucial that we work toward a safer world for these precious, valuable fellow humans.

I invite you to make a conscious change when you speak of people, especially our transgender neighbors around the country and our world. I humbly offer these suggestions, believing them to be moral and needed responses:
1) No more jokes about transgender. It’s often a terrifying and painful situation for someone to contemplate or begin transitioning. It’s also often a time of joy and relief. They are seeing counselors and doctors and undertaking major change in their lives… they don’t need any more stress or trouble from us.
2) Let’s educate ourselves on the violence. Let’s dare to look at the numbers and the problem of violence toward our transgender neighbors and ask why it is happening and how we can help put it to an end.
3) Don’t spread rumors and false assumptions about transgender people. I can’t help but think of groups who spread fear and false ideas about transgender people, like the negative ads most recently in Houston which portrayed transgender people as opportunistic sexual predators. This is disgusting and not needed in our society.
4) Simply speak to and about people with dignity, all people. This isn’t as they say rocket science. When speaking of a transgender person, give them the courtesy and dignity of kindness. When speaking to a transgender person, give them the courtesy and dignity of kindness. Your grandmother will be proud.

all that mattersWe don’t have a Transgender Day of Remembrance to set our transgender neighbors apart, but to highlight the need to work together toward safer and more dignified inclusion. As human beings, as fellow citizens and as people of faith, it is our responsibility to participate in making this world a safe place for all our neighbors.We share this world; let’s share it responsibly and joyfully.

AMDG, Todd

Also…
~ My post on November 20th 2014 Transgender Day of Remembrance with some amazing video footage.

~ My post on the problem of sexuality and violence.

~ My post earlier this year hoping for more unity in our humanity.

Transgender Awareness November 2015

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prayer for trans deadI believe we are blessed to live in a time when we are more openly and gracefully speaking of our sisters and brothers who are transgendered, but I also realize that many of our precious neighbors and family members still face stresses, threats and dangers that the majority of us do not recognize or understand.

It’s November, and November 20th is an awareness day to remember our fellow transgendered human beings who have died: Transgender Day of Remembrance.

If you wonder why we have a special day like this, please take a moment to peruse articles that educate us on the threats and stresses facing our trans friends and family: murder, suicide, teen homelessness and violent crime.prayer of safety for trans

The conversation about transgendered men and women has gone mainstream and we all know the names of celebrities and public figures who have made their transition in various levels of public scrutiny: Laverne CoxChaz Bono, and Caitlyn Jenner. Last year for Transgendered Remembrance Day I shared a couple of videos in a blog post, one from Laverne Cox and one from an amazing pastor and preacher, Allysson Robinson.

I have a few simple requests to everyone as we approach the 20th this year:

  1. Stop posting mean-spirited and discouraging memes and messages on social media about transgendered men and women. You may not think of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition as courageous, but when she receives an award from someone who thinks she shows courage, and you compare her to examples of firefighters or soldiers, you’re not being smart or clever, you’re just being mean and misrepresenting. There is a kind of courage that enables someone to survive media scrutiny and our disdain in the public arena, and it in no way diminishes other types of courage in other areas of life. Drawing unfair comparisons because you don’t like Caitlyn is a distraction and it is mean-spirited.
  2. Educate yourself on gender dysphoria so that you can stop spreading the demonization and criminalization of transgendered women and men. Learn about Gender Dysphoria in the DSM-5 and a good Huffington Post article. No, trans neighbors are not faking their gender identity to sneak into your bathroom. No, trans neighbors are not immature sexual attention-getters. No, trans neighbors are not out to make you trans, prey on you or your children, or even more likely to be sexual offenders. Please take some time to study the facts on sexual assault and sexual crimes, and you will learn the difference between many myths and many facts, supported by the numbers, like the fact: “sex offenders are disproportionately likely to be heterosexual men.” Some quick links and sources for your perusal: RAINN, University of Michigan (info for new students and the source of the above mentioned quote), CASA, and this long but important read from UC Davis. These links do often speak to the question of sexual orientation more than gender presentation or transition, but they are still good reads for us as we tend to fear and demonize what we do not understand. We are far more influenced by political spin and the culture war proponents (i.e. gullible) when we are less educated on issues.
  3. Be graceful and compassionate, practicing empathy and mercy for others. Take a long hard look at the numbers of homeless trans teens who have been kicked out by their families, a long look at the numbers of trans suicide attempts and successes, and a long look at the rates of violent crime against our trans neighbors, and then ask yourself: “Do I want to say or share anything that continues to stigmatize or hurt a group of people who are already under such assault and victims of such hatred and violence?” It’s time we all spent a lot more time owning our words and their impact. It’s time we owned the responsibility to be people promoting and increasing grace in the world. Even if you read every post I linked in this blog and still don’t quite understand gender dysphoria or understand someone’s authentic struggle with their gender identity, you can still be merciful, empathetic and kind. In fact, you must.

gentleness evident

As with our discussions around sexual orientation, there’s so much to learn from knowing a person who is transgendered. Knowing people is the best way to break down the stereotypes and prejudices. You may not know someone who identifies as a the gender opposite of their birth gender or sexual organs, but you can listen to the stories and struggles of real people like: Chase Marie, stories from The New York Times, and lots more at TransPeopleSpeak.org.

Life can be real struggle, as we all know. Our paths may be divergent in many ways, but at the intersections we have magical moments when love and grace ignite the wonder of God. Pray this month for the souls of those who die at the hands of our fear and ignorance. Pray for the peace and joy of all God’s children.

AMDG, Todd

The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage

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Bibles Yes to Same Sex MArriageBook review time! The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart.

I’ve been meaning to pick this up and read it for a while; I finally ordered a copy on Amazon and have taken a couple of weeks to read it. The cover and title make no equivocations on the author’s view point and end goal: looking to scripture for a faithful understating of same-sex marriage.

I like the way the author begins by telling some of his own story. Maybe it’s because I’m a GenX’er, but I like to know something about an author before constructing my matrix through which to filter her or his words. Just because it’s in a book and even managed to get published, that’s not so big a deal to me. This author seems to be a keeper. He’s a well-spoken (written) gentleman who carries that special evangelical pedigree that makes his book intriguing. I related with him immediately in his spiritual journey within a church tradition that was non-affirming of our LGBTQ neighbors and in his journey of changed understanding on how we read and apply our scriptures to sexuality and life.

I also related to his central angst: the traditional teaching on how to read our scriptures and apply them to the lives of sexual minorities is not working. In fact, that teaching and its application is damaging countless lives and souls, and it’s hard to synchronize that with God’s grace and love. The author doesn’t have a gay child or family member, and he isn’t coming to terms with his own sexuality… he is coming to terms with his faith.

Often those who have not sought and found a way to read scripture that affirms our LGBTQ neighbors will assume that Christians who do accept and affirm sexual minorities have in some way compromised scripture or adopted a value system that places cultural and social understandings above scripture. Nothing could further from the truth. This author is very relatable in his love of scripture and desire to reconcile our reading and application of it with a God of grace and love who is more than the scriptures.  I won’t spoil the whole author’s whole story because he tells it better than I can, but I found him very relatable as fellow Christian-in-process.

How To Read The Scriptures

Reading the scriptures is a central focus for the author, and reading them in a way that gives a consistent and coherent framework for understanding God and making a faithful daily life. The first four chapters are about reading scripture in a responsible and faithful way that allows us to better understand God and ourselves, in both the time of the scriptural witness and our own time. I found his critique and response to proof-texting certain passages to be clear and correct. The use of any verse or passage, divorced from it’s context and intent, and haphazardly applied in universal terms, is fraught with danger.

I especially appreciate the way the author expresses his search for a “good-sense” framework for reading scripture and understanding God. It’s more than encouraging, it’s down right life-giving, to relate to a God of good-sense and love instead of an arbitrary set of codified words on a page. And that does not in any way attack or lessen the authority of God. More than anything it invites us into a relationship with God which resonates more with the scriptural witness that the way most of us were taught in our churches. If you were raised like me, our early faith was summed up in a bumper sticker I saw often growing up, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Honoring God and Marriage 

Chapters Five through Nine carry us into the way our author makes sense of scripture and life in understanding homosexual orientations and the gift of marriage. He wants to do more than just dig at one passage or two passages; he wants to develop a deeper view of marriage and what it means to share a love with another person in the way that God so totally and selflessly loves us.

Though well thought through, the book is not a large theological treatise or a heavy scholarly work. There’s not a lot of Greek parsing or mounds of historical footnoting to get through. Many will find that a little frustrating, but others will find it refreshing. His writing style is welcoming and engaging, and he enjoys being consistent and logical. His approach comes across as common sensical.

The author loves God, loves scripture and loves and accepts his gay neighbor, and he has shown that our scriptures do not necessarily keep us from doing all those at the same time. His journey is about better understanding God and following the scriptures in a faithful authentic way that makes the most sense and proclaims the best news for all people. I recommend this easy to read book to everyone engaging in the conversation around sexuality and sexual minorities in the church. I especially recommend it to those have struggled to reconcile a disconnect between what they have been taught the scriptures to be saying on sexual orientation and the amazing faith and beauty they see (or hear about) in their gay friends and family.

AMDG, Todd