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

 

Maundy Thursday Reflection from Pastor Spellman April 1, 2010

Filed under: Daily Devotional Pages — visiblewitness @ 8:55 am
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The ability to empathize is a gift.  To hear someone else’s story and to experience as if it were your own develops a holy connection that I believe God blesses.

Have you, too, read the stories of the past forty days and felt the pain and anger of so many of these journeys in faith and sexuality as if they were precisely your own?  Have you superimposed others’ stories on your own life, feeling your own pain all the more acutely as it joins with that of others?

That has been my walk this Lent, particularly through the guidance of our sisters and brothers who have been bold enough to share pieces of their stories of brokenness and healing.  With each one, I’ve been broken, too.

And then we come to Holy Week – the week in which we re-live our collective brokenness as we journey from Palm Sunday to today, Maundy Thursday.  And we see the example of a God who acts in perfect empathy beyond anything any of us could muster, who kneels at the disciples’ dirty and smelly feet and washes them, summoning us to do the same.

It could all be so overwhelming.  It is. Trying to walk in Jesus’ footsteps means having some version of a Calvary experience.  For me, that re-living is so difficult that I feel depressed every Holy Week around now.  Many of you do, too.

But then I remember that God achieved the most complex things in very simple actions.  And salvation is God’s work, not mine.  So I set my sights on the simple things before me.  God doesn’t call me to a cross.  Rather, God calls me to kneel at your feet.

Then, knowing that we’ll find our way to the cross, anyway, God nourishes us with a meal for the journey, giving us Christ to sustain us in an act of God’s perfect, empathic love.

May we but share in that love, for by this, we will know that we are Christ’s disciples.

-The Rev. Kaji Rosa Spellman

 

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

 

God’s Help Outside the Church March 30, 2010

Filed under: Daily Devotional Pages — visiblewitness @ 4:40 am
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A week before his death in 1991, my late partner Bill Prosser left the hospital, determined not to die in the midst of the machinery of modern medicine.  He was a theater director and he insisted on his own setting for the last act.  We climbed the stairs to our fourth floor walk-up very slowly, knowing he would never climb them again.  The next morning, he lost control of his breathing. I called the visiting nurse, who told him he would die unless got his breath under control.  Using meditation, he managed to pull himself back.

The next few days were rich with talk and memory until one evening he suddenly became incoherent.  Sitting in our apartment surrounded by the clutter of illness – boxes of adult diapers and chucks, pulse monitors and intravenous nutrition bags – I suddenly felt totally helpless and abandoned.  I called our friends Fred and Erica, who dropped everything to be with us.  Soon the apartment was straightened and a delicious dinner was prepared.  The impromptu dinner party brought Bill back again for a short while.  That night, and for the next few days, God’s help came to us through my non-religious friends.


-Eric Stenshoel

 

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

 

Seeing Ourselves as God Sees Us March 27, 2010

Filed under: Daily Devotional Pages — visiblewitness @ 4:35 am
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I grew up on a dairy farm and spent much of my time hanging out with my dad in the fields and the barn.  I also got to go to the local farmer hangout – the Roundtop Diner.  The other farmers would tease all of us about girlfriends, but I already knew that my attraction was not towards Jill but to some of the younger farmer boys in town, in particular Ned and Lee.  I could not quite connect the dots, but I knew at seven that something was different about my hard wiring.

The church life of my community was very much a Hutchison thing.  Both my Mother and Father were very active in the church community, in fact the land the church was built on was donated by my parents.  Sunday School and Service on Sunday and dinner at Grandmas was a weekly guarantee.  My siblings and I were active young members of the United Methodist Church and it was a natural fit.  When I was 10 a piece of my childhood was stolen when my father died.  I had a powerful faith, even at that young age and  I quickly filled in the wide void by getting more deeply involved in my church and faith. 

Once in Sunday School class my teacher had us review some bible quotes.  One in particular stuck with me,   “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.”  Hebrews 10:35.   I was never a shy one so I just built on my confidence and became one of the regular “kids” in town. Bike riding, trying to uncurl the pigs’ tails, challenging the rooster to a duel and just plain hanging out in the wonder of a very safe world.    No one ever made comments about gay people, I am not sure we even knew what the meaning of gay was.  To be sure a nagging feeling was always there.  Why did basketball captain Rodney Plowman hold such an attraction to me and not the Homecoming Queen Sharon Cowan?    Sharon even called me her best girlfriend once and I thought that was a pretty cool gesture on her part.   And let’s not forget about Ned and Lee, they were looking better and better as time passed.   This of course was all fantasy to me, and nothing ever happened, I was not even sure what I was suppose to do.   This was long before the web,  Will and Grace or Out magazine existed to guide a teenager.

Alas, that fantasy came to an end when I moved on to college and into the work world to discover that “fags” were bad people and worse yet I might be one of them.  I struggled major with this, dating, even getting married, thinking that it would all go away and I would be NORMAL. 

 After all Ward and June Cleaver had a great family life, why shouldn’t I?  However, it was not to be and I had to face the reality of who I was.  The first few years were not easy, having casual encounters, even falling in love with a married guy but they always ended in sadness.  Then I met Paul who was in a similar place to me, but we did not like one another at the start.  Over time we established common ground and he was determined to win me over, and the relationship flourished.  From there it progressed to outing myself to my friends and family.  Most of them said they already knew so I really had had nothing to fear.

31 years later I am proud to say, I am all grown up now, with a lifetime partner who shares many of the same values and interests that I do.  I have now come full circle back to a very safe world linked to a very strong faith.  Thanks be to God.

-David Hutchison