Visible Witness from the Intersection

a journey through the love of Christ reflecting the spectrum of gender and sexuality.

Good Friday Reflection from Pastor Stahler April 2, 2010

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  “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 fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks!”

Saint Matthew 18:2-6

We all have AIDS.

Kenneth Cole

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Saint John 19:28-30

Death and pain. Anguish and sorrow. Harmed and hurt. These are strands running in, with and under all the visible witness reflections accompanying our early morning and late night prayer these past numbered days. These are strands of the varied stories of the faithful lives of our sisters and brothers in Christ that have illumined our story — at once individual and communal:

  • wounded by people who cannot fathom how being Christian and being gay are faithful partners;
  • wounded through hate-filled legislation of death and inequitable laws;
  • wounded in a power-mogul-filled room prior to the constituting convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;
  • wounded by society- created and perpetuated gender “norms;”
  • wounded by stumbling blocks put in the way of little children, who grew to be adolescents and young adults, some who have blossomed into older adults, some who are with God on “a distant and far greater shore.”

I’m convinced Jesus says it is “better if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea,” because such stumbling blocks cause wounds. Deep, painful wounds. And this wounded-ness wounds not just the one initially wounded by the stumbling block, but all people — the whole human family, the whole community, the whole body of Christ. God give such stern warning because God in Christ Jesus never wants anyone to be wounded.

For far too long, a select few have named the stumbling block of human sexuality this way: “those homosexuals,” “those gays,” “those queers,” “those fags.” If we take shared wounded-ness seriously, the arc of God’s truth seems to suggest the stumbling block is something other than these hallow, though harmful and harming, labels. The stumbling block lies not in front of such “little children,” but in front of those who would pick up the stumbling block — the stone, “the tradition,” proof-texts of the Bible — to throw it and to hurl it from a place of power and manipulation and privilege at those without protection or rights or equitable place at the conversation table.

The stumbling block is not the broad spectrum of human sexuality and gender. It cannot be. Because if we take the stumbling block to be the varied ways in which God makes people, we all become wounded.  Instead, the stumbling block is the impulse to narrow the spectrum of God-made sexualities and genders by pontification, legislation, attempts at eradication, and yes, even scripturalization. This impulse is the great stumbling block — one that ties a millstone around the neck of humanity and casts it into a deep, deep chaotic and engulfing sea.

Jesus claims a different way. Jesus becomes humble like “this child,” like these little children who grew to be adolescents and young adults, some who have blossomed into older adults, some who are with God on “a distant and far greater shore.” Jesus as one of us, all of us.

Jesus suffers the fate prescribed by those who would pick up stumbling block and throw it at all of us. Jesus is wounded by such power: pontification, legislation, attempts at eradication, and yes, even scripturalization. Jesus is wounded and takes all these wounds — our wounds — to the road leading to Golgotha, to the cross, to the tomb. Takes all our wounds even to God, so that these wounds will be no more.

“He said, ‘it is finished,’ and he meant it. He bowed his head and gave up his spirit in order to put to death even death itself.

– The Rev. Jared R. Stahler


God’s Bel Canto March 31, 2010

Filed under: Daily Devotional Pages — visiblewitness @ 4:42 am
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I have been blessed by many people who have courageously spoken out in ways that teach and sustain we who are weary of homophobia, exclusion and injustice.  One such person is David Clenney who has generously allowed me to share part of his story.

David is the founder and director of the Westside Opera Society which began at Trinity Church on the Upper West Side in 1982. Over the past several years, he has organized a Bel Canto opera series to raise money for Trinity Place, our shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth.

The operas David has produced are filled with romantic treachery and betrayals.  David grew up with a different kind of  betrayal. His parents could not accept that he seemed different from other children. He was beaten violently and battered verbally. He made his operatic debut at age 11 as a boy soprano. It bothered his parents that he was singing “like a girl,” which earned him more abuse. His father tried to talk him out of his Carnegie Hall debut as a soprano saying that he would be beaten up when he came out of the theater. David prevailed.

For the past few years, David has faced a different sort of treachery, the kind that comes from cancer. He has undergone numerous, painful and exhausting treatments, but in the midst of them, he rises from bed to direct the operas. He says it keeps him going to know that he is able to help other youth escape the horror he endured.

The beautiful song that David offers with such courage and generosity helps sustain our shelter, providing a place of rest for the weary. David’s witness sustains me when I grow weary. I hope it does the same for you.

-Heidi Neumark


Living in Truth March 29, 2010

Filed under: Daily Devotional Pages — visiblewitness @ 4:38 am
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I was in the closet for most of my life: I didn’t come out until I was 65.  Such hiding is wearisome indeed, because of the enormous energy required to pretend to be straight.  Religion at first encouraged my deception.  I prayed mightily to be straight, because from the ‘40s to the ‘80s, both church and society seemed to say that straight was the only acceptable way to be.  But my struggle to hide became harder, and, at Saint Peter’s, I knew many out gay people who seemed comfortable with their homosexuality.  So, their simple presence caused me to question more and more my wearisome struggle to be straight.

A line from the Gospel of John kept coming to me: “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). My truth was that I was gay, and I slowly realized that I didn’t need to live a lie trying to be straight.

Saint Peter’s and particularly its gay members stood with me, often without knowing it, as I gradually gave up my wearisome burden.  Today my prayer is for all gay people, particularly young people, to feel that God loves them as they are.

-Peter McNamara


The Word of God Is Love March 28, 2010

Filed under: Daily Devotional Pages — visiblewitness @ 4:37 am
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When I witness hatred of others because of those they love, I feel ashamed.  When I read about attacks on people because of those they love, I feel anger.  When I hear speech used as a weapon against others because of those they love, I feel weary.

But the hate of others, the attacks of others and the words of others are not my adversaries.  Fear is my adversary—my own fear as much as the fear of others.

I pray that the Word of God will enter the hearts, the hands and the mouths of others, and maybe that will come to pass.  But I know that the Word of God can enter my heart and take my shame from me.  I know that the Word of God can enter my hands and take my anger from me.  And I know that the Word of God can sustain my weary heart and help me love those who would hate me, those who would attack me and those who would call out against me.  For the Word of God is “love” and “love” is the only answer for fear.

-T.J. Fitzgerald


Hope Along the Way March 25, 2010

It was the bold witness and work of the civil rights movement that inspired lesbian and gay people to move out of the shadows. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

I grew up with the civil rights movement. There seemed to be a staight path to equality – until Malcolm and Martin were killed.  In the early 1970’s, it seemed like recognition and equality were within reach.  But then the forces of fear gathered strength.  When Anita Bryant got gay teachers fired, I gave up the thought of becoming a teacher.  She got the gay rights ordinance repealed in Dade County, FL, and St. Paul, MN followed suit.  And then, in 1978, Harvey Milk was assassinated.

And now, over thirty years later, the arc is still bending, however slowly.  We look to the example of Mildred Loving, the black woman who won the battle to marry her white husband but said, “It wasn’t my doing.  It was God’s work.” Before her death in 2008, she had added her voice to the cause of full marriage equality.

Sometimes you have to step back to see the full curve of that arc if you don’t want to be discouraged by losses along the way.

-Eric Stenshoel


The Struggle to Live in Truth and Faith March 23, 2010

Filed under: Daily Devotional Pages — visiblewitness @ 3:02 am
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We all work to examine ourselves: who we are, what we do, and where we are going.  In my process of self-examination, I look for help from friends, therapy, meditation and prayer. I know that the answers are not easy nor are they always definitive.

It is not easy to question ourselves.

To recognize and to acknowledge that I am gay was not easy. But it is not easy to be a Christian, either. It is not easy to break with the teachings of my past, or those things that are blocking me and even distracting me, making me feel as if I cannot receive the infinite love and kindness of God.

And so I struggle to be optimistic, persistent, and humble. I struggle to believe in a promising future. I must remember to trust God, and to continue in the work to find peace with myself and with my neighbor. I call upon God to continue to refine me.  I ask for help knowing that I cannot do it alone. I pray with the strength God has implanted within me to reinforce my faith that I may live in the example of Christ.

My goal is to know that I did everything that I could in this lifetime to follow Christ’s example, that I will have fulfilled my promises and duties as a Christian, that I will have lived always with full confidence in God.

I suppose that we all have “closets” or secrets. In my own search for truth, I am clinging to my faith in God.  I pray that this will bring me peace and a more joyful life.

-Walter Perez


Sharing Gifts March 22, 2010

Filed under: Daily Devotional Pages — visiblewitness @ 4:29 am
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Giving away our talents and sharing gifts given to us has been the rule in my family. I had been encouraged to be creative, blaze any trail that went in a positive direction, and stand up straight and smile.

At the age of 13, and as a new resident of the Midwest, I was excited to discover that my new church had a handbell choir for kids. I enthusiastically joined as the only boy in a group of girls; I loved it!  While in high school, I taught Sunday school to 5-year-olds and continued pursuing art, music, drama.  I was also part of a puppet troupe that told bible stories to kids in the surrounding Lutheran grade schools. My family and key teachers challenged me and supported all my ideas. Although considered “women’s work” by some, I learned to ignore teasing and negative comments about doing the things I love, the things that I could contribute.

Imagine my confusion, then, when as a young adult I discovered “whom God planned for me to date and eventually fall in love with.”  Although I always had the best female friends, it was with other guys that I found romantic happiness. There was no support on this path, and the response I received was negative. Giving of myself in this way was not allowed, and dating no one was better than having a relationship with a man.

I learned again to smile and to stand up straight, and strive to keep giving.

To use the words of Oscar Wilde:

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

-Kristian Kraai