• a five-minute sermon on body and witness

    the gospel of john 9:1-7, 17-41 

    for "preaching the plenary" at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Oct. 8, 2018.

    - - - - -

    The first thing Jesus does in this encounter is to denounce the connection between sin and disability. As soon as the disciples meet the man who was blind from birth, they ask Jesus whose sin caused this disability – the man or his parents? They presume cause-and-effect sin – that being blind had to be some punishment for past wrongdoing.

    And Jesus answers that no one sinned. This man is not blind because of sin.

    The man’s body also isn’t a passive illustration of God performing miracles, but instead is a model of how to react when we experience the healing and liberating power of God. The blind man is sent to wash in the pool of Siloam, and returns with vision. His body affirms God’s power in Jesus, with eyes newly opened.

    The Pharisees don’t know what to do with this miracle, and don’t believe the man. He couldn’t be telling the truth about this event, because it’s a truth that would upend power-as-they-know-it. So they seek outside evidence of what happened, by asking the man’s parents.

    His parents honored and feared the religious authority of the Pharisees. They keep a middle ground between dedication to the temple and dedication to their son. In doing this, affirming his transformation, but not backing up the explanation, they distance themselves from their son. They are not willing to shift their worldview for the risky new reality their son brings.

    I find myself sad at his parent’s reaction, and also tender, and I imagine this is similar to how the man is feeling. Exasperated at them, joyous in the experience of Christ, wishing they were willing to change and grow with him, into a new kind of life. It reminds me of my mom, deeply loving and deeply loved, who still regularly misgenders me, because fully embracing my embodied gender would mean a loss of control of how she thinks the world works. And I understand that fear of loss, and still name my truths with her, hoping.

    God has made us bodies of transformation. But for that change to take root, we need to renounce our illusions of control and power, and trust in lived experience.

    Dissatisfied with the parent’s unhelpful answer, the Pharisees talk to the man yet again, trying to get him to call Jesus a sinner, to affirm their own views. It’s important to name that this is a tactic on the part of the Pharisees. They are trying to get the unnamed man to denounce Jesus with his new social capital. This is regularly played out in marginalized communities. When one group gains some power, the instinct is to turn around and inflict the same oppression that was just escaped, in order to protect their new status. However, the man has been so transformed through his encounter with the Divine that he refuses to enact worn-out power tactics. 

    His response to their claim Jesus is a sinner has a very straightforward logic to it. ‘I had been blind, now I’m not, this has literally never happened before, so how can this man be anyone but the Messiah?’ They ask again, hoping for a different answer, and, at this point, I’m picturing the man as a little annoyed, and a little snarky with his reply – “Here is an astonishing thing! You don’t know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes!”

    The Pharisees refuse to be changed. They didn’t listen to this impoverished, disabled man before he could see, so why would they listen to him now, when doing so would uproot their power? Despite an actual, out-of-this-world miracle being performed in front of them, the Pharisees and the man’s parents cling to their own worldviews, and drive the man out of community.

    Because what if they honored his experience? What if they allowed themselves to be changed? It would be a terrifying destabilization and loss of control. It is easier to drive him out, and hope people will forget about the miracle. Earthly power does everything it can in order to self-perpetuate, driving away those whose bodies tell a different story of how the world is, and how it could be. His parents and the Pharisees are acting out of fear, an emotion I am working to name more in my own life. Because I know how fear causes me to hold onto control as hard as I can, in ways that are often unhealthy, and distance me from God’s imagining of the world.

    Jesus seeks the man out, and almost directly acknowledges that his healing is a metaphor. I can imagine Jesus tone saying, “those who think they can see”, in response to the Pharisees. Who think they know how the world works. How power works. When in reality, Jesus has been sent so that those without power and without privilege in the current systems, those on the margins, discarded, will be opened to a new way in Christ. The man’s body bears witness to both oppression and transformation, and that potential for change is a risk. His body and witness is evidence of God working through Jesus the Christ, working to birth a world where we can choose to release control for life, power structures for liberation, and hierarchies for accessibility.

    Thanks be to God. 

  • a sermon on porous bodies

    ordinary time.

    the gospel of mark 5:21-43.

    for St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square, July 1, 2018.

    - - - - -

    We continue our summer sermon series: Holy Scandal: Outrageous Stories of the People of God, with a section from Mark’s Gospel that illustrates the Body of Christ, through the witness and encounters of unnamed women. The bodies we meet are scandalous. They defy expectations of wellness, and give us bodies that are vulnerable, porous, and nonlinear. A living body of Christ, that is both God’s beloved, and earthly.

    Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four canonical gospels, and from an oral tradition. The storytelling tactics the authors use gives us a visceral idea of the urgency of Jesus’ actions. There is a repetition of the word ‘immediately’, and the healing stories often overlap and interrupt, as in our reading today. Jesus is working to prepare the disciples and their communities for the crucifixion and resurrection that is coming sooner than anyone is ready for. He is begging them over and over to know and recognize the power of the Spirit that is moving through the world. This is not an easy ask by Jesus.

    Today’s passage immediately follows Jesus casting out the oppressive demons of Legion, from a man who had been exiled from community due to those spirits. When Jesus returns to the parallel shore, Jairus, the local synagogue leader, meets him, and begs for help, because his daughter is sick and he has exhausted his options.

    The Body of Christ is vulnerable.

    Jairus’ daughter is young and actively dying. That reality can’t be changed by Jairus’ position of local and religious authority, can’t be changed by any wealth he has, or any social status. He is desperate enough to seek out assistance and healing from Jesus, who is out of favor with the temple authorities, and who is working to uproot the positions of power like Jairus holds in favor of God’s Kin-dom. It is a scandalous ask, and Jairus has no reason to believe that Jesus will help him, outside of hope that the rumors are true – rumors that Jesus brings good news and restoration to all who seek him out.

    Jairus is in an extreme place of vulnerability. His daughter’s life is on the line, his position in the temple is on the line – and Jesus reacts with compassion, and goes with Jairus towards his house, to heal his daughter. She is from a good family, twelve years old, probably scared, and actively dying, and Jesus is going to her.

    We then encounter the image of the hemorrhaging woman, whose story interrupts and pauses Jesus’ trip to the house. She is outside of community, impoverished from lack of health care, and has a long-suffering, stigmatized illness. She is in a vulnerable place in society, without the familial support Jairus’ daughter has.

    From the text, we know that the woman has been bleeding for twelve years, and no one knows the cause. She has spent everything she has on doctors who can’t give clear answers or care, exhausting time and resources, without anything to show for it.

    What is commonly translated as hemorrhages can be read as ‘an issue of blood’, or ‘constant bleeding’, and is oftentimes considered akin to the heavy bleeding that can be a symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Because since there was, and is, stigma and risk around menstrual blood, it would make sense that for twelve years she has been bouncing between hiding her illness as much as possible and being in community, or being open about her illness at the cost of community. And neither of those options is sustainable.

    The Body of Christ is porous.

    Uncontrolled bodily fluids are mostly signs of being unwell – blood, snot, tears, cold sweats – a definition of wellness could be constructed as “the ability to hold your body in boundary”. To have walls up, to be protected, to have a shield.

    There are many instances where these borders are undefined, due to illness, vulnerability, or choice. Porous bodies, like the woman’s, are aligned with notions of weakness and femininity in ancient views of disability. Since disease was thought to come from imbalances or invasion, a body that that wasn’t sealed off to external ills or enclosed was more susceptible to disease. Even now, local knowledge around wellness includes keeping wounds clean and covering sneezes and coughs. Her body is considered disabled because of her hemorrhages and gender.

    But Jesus’ body is also porous, connected to disability and femininity, and that isn’t how we are used to describing him. Jesus doesn’t notice the woman until the healing is literally pulled out of him. He doesn’t initiate the healing. It’s an osmosis of energy between their two bodies. And their porosity is beautiful.

    Jesus is not in control of the healing energy, in the same way the woman is not in control of her bleeding. She acts with such faith, and such desperation, transgressing social boundaries, that she is healed.

    Meister Eckhart, a thirteenth-century Dominican mystic, used the image of a pot of boiling water to encapsulate God’s creative energy. God is the pot of water, Christ is the boil, and the Holy Spirit is the flame – inseparable, moving with fierce power, without a clear beginning or end. Jesus’ body both contains and cannot contain the Divine energy, an insight that perhaps speaks to why Jesus heals over and over and over in his ministry – the Divine is overflowing and being called forth by need and faith, and is much more than fleshy boundaries can hold. It is not just Christ’s purpose or interest to heal - it is a deep need.

    Mark’s Gospel gives us a mystical glimpse of the Kin-dom in this moment. Healing isn’t something to be paid for; it is freely exchanged and accessible so that all can flourish. It reminds me of the work we are doing with the Chicago Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers, to approve a binding referendum for a community-funded, accessible mental health facility serving the Avondale, Logan Square, and Hermosa neighborhoods. Gods Kin-dom lives out the statement that health – mental, physical, and spiritual – is a human right. Healing in the Gospels isn’t constrained by earthly borders and titles – the Divine is a force of nature, a creating and healing force. I consider healing and creating to be intertwined – it is the same energy, acting in opposition to destruction and harm.

    The other night at Table Talk, a small group here at St. Luke’s, we were discussing the concept of a wounded healer, and we also explored the level of vulnerability it takes to disclose illness to community. Claiming illness and our wounds is a radical act of vulnerability, and comes with risks. Hiding illness, physical and mental, is so much the norm that we are made to feel outside of community if we expose our wounds. We are made to feel othered, like a burden, as though we need to choose between staying in community or claiming our illness. Yet, as we witness in today’s Gospel, that is not true. The woman reveals herself to Jesus, and he reacts by calling her kin.

    The Body of Christ is nonlinear, and made of interruptions.

    The story of the hemorrhaging woman is an interlude in the larger frame narrative of Jarius’ daughter. Jesus stops to seek out the woman who has been healed. Her faith has healed her hemorrhages, and Jesus calling her ‘daughter’ (the same word that is used for Jairus’ daughter), re-integrates her into community, and into the Body of Christ.

    The disciples try to dissuade this interruption, because they are in a crowd, surrounded by people – there’s no way Jesus can actually find this woman among so many people, and they have more important places to be.

    This pause to find the woman is critical, because it shows us that Jesus cares as much about this unnamed, poor, chronically ill woman as he does the daughter of an important local leader. She is not below his notice, or his care. The energy transfer between their bodies is so startling, such an equalizing moment, that Jesus is compelled to seek her out, and name her as family.

    And during this interruption, Jairus’ daughter dies.

    Yet Jesus continues to the house, drawing away from the crowd, and resurrects the young woman.

    This, again, begins to prepare the disciples and community for the world that is-to-come, where death isn’t the final word, but radical restoration is. The resurrection of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, their reintegration into community and relationship, paints a wonderful, vital picture of the Kin-dom. Where wealth and social status don’t determine your access to care. Where illness is not a barrier to community. Where God is never too late, and rejoices in our interruptions.

    The news cycle this week, like so many recently, was really rough. Judicial changes, increased instances of violence, severe weather, inhumane border policies – friends, we are living in a hard time. And yet today’s gospel illustrates so clearly that God doesn’t work according to our timeline. God is never too late to bring resurrection. That is something I’ve been holding on to during the storms. The Body of Christ is a wounded body, an ill body, a scandalous body that is so entwined into God’s love and care that the healing process, the reconciliation into community, has no beginning or end.

    God is never too late, and always shows up, transgressing borders with abundant, healing love.

    Thanks be to God.

  • a sermon on risk and call

    season after Pentecost.

    1 samuel 3:1-20 and the gospel of mark 2:23-3:6

    for St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square, June 3, 2018.

    - - - - -

    This summer, we witness God again and always working through unlikely figures in the Bible, in a sermon series at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, designed by Pastor Brooke and Pastoral Resident Erin, called “Holy Scandal: The Outrageous Stories of the People of God”. I’m thrilled and thankful to be kicking that series off with stories of Samuel and the disciples.

    A detail in Samuel’s call story that I hadn’t noticed until preparing this sermon was that “visions were rare in this time”. Thinking of Biblical narratives, in both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, my mind overlays what are often very mundane, very human, stories with mythic power. There are angels, and archangels, resurrections, and dreams. The landscape of the Bible feels like it’s ripe for visions. So it stopped me to consider the context of Samuel’s call in a world where this is still rare, an experience to a boy who “did not yet know the LORD”.

    This wasn’t a call that Samuel was seeking. Yes, he was in service to train as a Nazirite, in order to make a permanent vow to God. And I could imagine, in his place, dreaming, and probably fearing, a direct encounter with God. But I also imagine that I could reason away happenings that were out of the ordinary. I can imagine thinking that, since visions were rare, they couldn’t be happening to me. The Word was rare – so why would God reveal that word to me? Or to an eleven-year-old boy who hadn’t taken his vows yet?

    God calls Samuel four times. In the first three instances, Samuel makes the assumption that it is his human teacher calling to him. We don’t know the type of relationship Samuel and Eli had – was Eli a kind teacher? Harsh?, I know it took a lot of guts for Samuel to answer and go three times. If it wasn’t Eli calling the first time, why would he be the second and third times, and how will Eli react to the continued interruption?

    But being called by name was so compelling that Samuel risks rebuke. And I wonder if this is why Eli recognized God’s work in the third call, and sends Samuel back to answer God. The first two could simply be human error – there are many times that we think we hear our names, and ask someone nearby, and it’s just an auditory slip, or someone speaking about an unrelated topic. The repetition, however, bears deeper investigation. Is it God calling? Is it what we might call today an auditory hallucination? Both? The Word has been revealed to Eli, and the linkage of the Word and call in our text leads me to infer that Eli knows God’s voice, and can recognize it in another. 

    “Here I am.” 

    This is a vulnerable, and risky, statement. It encompasses Samuel’s entire being, his strengths as well as his growing edges, inexperience and knowledge. God calls his full, embodied being.

    Samuel is called by name. Right now, the turn into summer reminds me so strongly that we are in Pride Month – a month of born out of a protest, when trans women of color and drag queens and butches refused to lay down for the police yet again, but instead boldly took space at the Stonewall Inn, saying, “here we are”, in our queerness, in our community. By calling Samuel directly, God affirms the value and importance of our naming’s.

    And as a queer seminarian, Samuel’s call story is a path-marker I return to in times of doubt. God calls unlikely people, by name, to bear God’s Word, without asking them to change their core. And in doing so, God asks us to risk a radical shift in perspective. I’ve had to do more reckoning with my identity the first year of seminary, claiming being a person of faith, then I’ve ever had to do while coming out as queer and trans. Because following God’s call means letting go of the structures of White capitalism that I’ve been taught since before I was Samuel’s age. It’s offputting. It’s offputting to know that iniquity, that genocide, inhumane and unholy actions are the foundation of what is normed in society. And that God calls us to name these iniquities, as Samuel did for Eli.

    Samuel is young. He is young enough to be written off as juvenile, as simply imagining God calling. He doesn’t have the religious or cultural authority of Eli. And yet, it is Samuel who prophesies to Eli. The foretelling that God gives, God gives through an unexpected conduit. God doesn’t wait for Samuel to grow up, to know more, to change – and Samuel trusts in God for these reasons, telling Eli, a man in power, something that Eli doesn’t want to hear. Which could have had severe repercussions for Samuel.

    In this story of God’s Kin-dom, Eli doesn’t react how we would expect, or how Samuel fears – he doesn’t dismiss Samuel as too young, doesn’t accuse him of being ‘crazy’ (a word I use carefully, aware of chronic misuse and stigmatization), and doesn’t respond with violence. Eli holds the prophecy of Samuel as one from God, one naming a deep truth and consequence. I think about this reaction, of allowing the prophecy to be truth, in contrast to how I might react in a similar situation. White, capitalist society teaches that visions are even rarer than in Samuel’s time, and should be subdued, so eradicated that we no longer notice threads of prophecy. Teaches that until someone reaches a certain, nonspecific, ‘older’ age, they cannot be leaders, and that their words are worth - less. Teaches that anything that is unexplainable by the scientific method is either yet-to-be-discovered or made-up or a result of mental illness that needs to be ‘cured’.

    This year, my faith practice has been accompanied by deep reckoning with internalized ableism. Ableism is a privileging of normed bodies and reactions to the world, at the discrimination and prejudice against folks with disabilities. A dear member of my family recently found out that she has a cyst on her temporal lobe, a congenital condition whose symptoms she has been navigating and downplaying, not even realizing, for her entire life. She also has lived experience with auditory hallucinations, and this cyst might be the cause. And again, as I am tender with the word ‘crazy’, in the ways that it is thrown around and normalizes stigma against mental illness, I am tender with this story. She risks when she discloses this cyst, when she discloses auditory hallucinations. She is speaking a Word of truth that those in power find dangerous – her brain doesn’t conform to their rules, but is part of God’s creation. Samuel speaks truth to a man of power who could ruin him. (Beth) speaks truth to a system that could, and does, erase her lived experience.

    In God’s Kin-dom, it is the scandalous, those who exist in ways that we don’t perceive as normed, that are called by God. God is neurodiverse. God sends visions and burning bushes. Every time I think I have unlearned my internalized ableism, I am reminded how much I tie personal worth to productivity, to being the ‘right’ kind of person for God to call, forgetting that I am already named and claimed. This conflict is rooted in the society of cure that we live in. Turning on the TV, I am bombarded with stories of miraculous cure and medicine – stories that make it seem like the best outcome for any disability is to be cured or fixed.

    We can project this culture of cure backwards to Biblical times. Many of the stories that show us God’s presence involve healing. It is apt to call Jesus a healer. But the healings, witnessed within the larger Gospel narratives, are restorations. When Jesus calls demons out of a man at Gerasa he restores the man into community. When he heals an unnamed hemorrhaging woman, he restores her into community. Jesus doesn’t heal indiscriminately, but instead heals those who seek out healing. This is an important distinction, as our medical system wants cure to be the only agreeable option. Cure isn’t for God’s sake, but for ours.

    A book that I’ve been reading alongside this week is “Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure”, by Eli Clare, a disabled, transgender writer. He writes: “Declaring disability a matter of social justice is an important act of resistance – disability residing not in paralysis but in stairs without an accompanying ramp, not in blindness but in the lack of braille and audio books, not in dyslexia but in teaching methods unwilling to flex. In this declaration, disability politics joins other social change movements in the ongoing work of locating the problems of injustice not in individual body-minds but in the world.”

    And this resistance ties directly into today’s stories from the Gospel of Mark. We’re encountering two stories where Jesus speaks truth to religious authority, and affirms not only the disciples picking wheat for food on the Sabbath, and heals on the Sabbath as well. Both of these actions are in conflict with the current Sabbath law enforced by the Pharisees.  However, much like exceptions to the Ramadan fast of our Muslim siblings for travel and health, the laws of the Sabbath are given so that we might rest and recover. But that rest is often a privilege. Filling the human need for nourishment, sustaining bodies and minds, is more important than the written laws of Sabbath. God wants us to be able to be our full selves, and that is rooted in basic needs being met, including rest, as well as food, shelter, and water.

    Jesus embracing wheat-picking and healing gives important context to religious law – religious law is important, but not more important than people being able to live. A lot of burden has been put on the margins to change and adapt better to mainstream culture, instead of culture expanding into an abundant future where everyone thrives. In this same way, Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees has him experiencing pressure from the dominant group to assimilate to the laws as-they-were, instead of as-they-could-be. The flexibility in Sabbath practice points to a necessary flexibility in institutions – imagine Samuel’s age being no barrier to his prophecy. Picture a mainstream that embraces the lived knowledge and stories of those with congenital differences or mental illness. And what if the Pharisees had redistributed wealth, labor, and caretaking so that all could freely participate in holy Sabbath rest?  

    God calls us by name. And our named, embodied selves are holy, and challenging, and made good. And it is the scandal of God that our Creator has made the neurodiverse / and queer / and brown / and young / and poor / and oppressed - - their people. God calls us to live out their Kin-dom, to prophesy to sinful power structures, to risk being remade and vulnerable.

    Here we are.

  • a sermon on holy toolboxes

    fifth Sunday of Advent.

    the gospel of john, 12:20-33.

    for St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square, March 18, 2018.

    - - - - -

    There is a sense of urgency that is present in our Lenten Gospel readings. We started with Mark, which is a frenetic text written in response to war and occupation, we have been chronologically working through Jesus’ public ministry and teachings on discipleship. We began at Jesus’ baptism, went through the clearing of the Temple, and encountered a Christ that urges us into deeper belief and faith. Time had been moving very quickly in Mark, and now as we draw nearer to Holy Week, time starts to slow down in our Gospel of John readings.

    Because Lent and Advent are both times of waiting. While Advent is a time of hopeful waiting for the Christ-child to be born, Lent is a time of fearful anticipation. We witnessed this when Jesus rebuked Peter a few weeks ago. Jesus predicted his death at the hands of the state, and the disciples would not, or could not, accept this as truth. We are waiting for a future that has been predicted three times, but is unwanted. We don’t want Jesus to die. Finally, we have been given a glimpse of God-in-flesh, and now, after only three years of public ministry, the disciples are told it is up to them to continue the work.

    Jesus’ predictions about the crucifixion are a lot to hold. What does it say about God if God had to send their beloved to be executed by the state in order for a new world be made? In order for Resurrection to happen? It implies a sacrificial theology that can be harmful. Jesus dies on the cross so we don’t have to. Jesus has witnessed suffering in those around him, physical suffering, emotional, structural – and has come to create the Kin-dom of God on earth where we can rest in Christ.

    Working to envision that Kin-dom is hard work. It’s draining. I notice the tendency towards burn-out in myself, in activists, in healers. And I sometimes try to justify that with sacrificial theology – ‘well, we’re the body of Christ, and Christ suffered until the end, so we probably will too.’

    No. We were already doing that before Jesus, and are still doing it afterwards. God wants that to change. God wants us to live into our holy Divine and dirt-made creaturehood. “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour” – to glorify God, and so glorify the breadth of God’s creation.

    Jesus has been healing, renewing faith, shaking power structures, and has been giving creation a taste of the Kin-dom of God in a way that hasn’t been present except in dreams since Eden. How are we to continue that work in a sacred way? We are the body of Christ – we have already been crucified, and we have been raised up, and have been given the tools to imagine into being a just world. It is the both/and of discipleship – we have experienced in our molecules the Crucifixion, and it is also a completely unknown thing to us. A mystery of faith is that Christ is past, present, and future – past in our stories, and present in our bones. We hold the collective memory of Crucifixion, and Christ came to model discipleship and justice to guide us through these tensions.

    Christ predicts that “the ruler of this world will be driven out”, and that all people will be gathered into Christ. On this Sunday, it feels like Jesus is teaching that one of the rulers that will be driven out is the sin of intentional ignorance – the same kind of ignorance when we plug our ears and sing when we don’t want to hear something.

    Intentional ignorance is found when we say walkouts are worse than gun deaths, when violence is touted as the best way to resolve conflict, and when we choose to hear false narratives over lived experience. Peter is rebuked for holding onto false ignorance that Jesus won’t die.

    The disciples keep refusing to embrace the prophetic truth of Christ. It reminds me of the Greek prophet Cassandra. Legend goes that Cassandra was a prophet who always predicted the truth. When she rebuked Apollo, he didn’t react with grace, instead, he corrupted her prophecy – she would still tell truth, but no one would believe her. She would shout into a void of disbelief, knowing in her heart that she is telling truth.

    Cassandra and Christ both foretell the truth. And as the Greeks didn’t listen to Cassandra, the disciples keep having their hearts hardened to the truth that Jesus is going to the cross. Going to Jerusalem, knowing exactly what is going to happen. It’s absurd that the disciples don’t believe Christ, despite Christ being baptized by the Spirit, after rebuking Peter to see the truth, after overturning the Temple for it to be born new, proclaiming the Good News that all will be one in God, healing and restoring.

    The urgency around speaking truth no one believes is frenetic. Jesus keeps trying to get through to the disciples, and it keeps failing. And even though we keep closing our ears and hearts to Christ, he doesn’t leave us alone. Jesus is persistent, giving us not one, not two, but three times to wrestle with the nature of his death before it happens. And we can’t. It hurts too much, since the Kin-dom feels just out of grasp – things are changing, we’re almost there. Jesus has put fear into the world as-is, and revealed the potential of the world to-be. And it feels like Jesus being executed will crush that. But Jesus is giving us tools to continue their work after the Crucifixion, after mourning.

    These tools aren’t concrete – we are asked to wrestle with them, to discover how they impart meaning into our lives in the midst of Empire. One of the tools found in our text today is guiding us through the way we live our lives - “If you love your life you’ll lose it, but if you hate your life in this world you’ll preserve it for unending life”. Some version of this teaching is in every canonical Gospel. And it isn’t what we want to be told. If we love how our lives are unfolding, it’s human nature to want to hold onto that. But this comes after Jesus’ proclamation that the rulers of this world will be dethroned.

    And I’ve found that sometimes, when I love how my life is going, I love it on the surface level. I love it because I am moving with the flow of society, with nothing really getting in the way of forward momentum. However, that usually means that I’m choosing the easy way instead of the way of Christ. And, Jesus doesn’t want us to suffer. Jesus wants to transform how we are living so we aren’t stuck in the same cycles of pain and oppression, because those follow us too.

    Christ is telling the disciples about a third way – being neither in love with our lives so much that we can’t let go and embrace reconciliation and justice, and also not hating it so much we lose perspective on the hope of the Resurrection. Jesus reassures us that we will be gathered together into the love of the Beloved at the moment of death/resurrection, and to not fear that unknown future, because transformation is possible.

    And I tie this back to the seed parables, an overarching tool and witness of Jesus’ ministry. Just as Christ is predicting the Crucifixion, they are also trying to instill in us what the Resurrection feels like – a breaking forth from the ground into new life.

    We bury seeds. We bury bodies. We wait. We mourn. We nourish those sacred places with tears, with sunlight. We wait for what is just out of grasp. And unseen, the seeds break open. Their original form is destroyed, and a new sprout emerges. And from that, it bears much fruit to continue Creation’s cycles.

    In order for the plant to sprout and flourish and grow good fruit, we first have to bury the seed. We have to let go of the way our lives reinforce Empire. We need to bury our dreams, and to let the spark of hope fall into the dirt and be buried, and trust that it will be transformed. If we shut our senses to the prophetic reality of Jesus, we hold onto a false love of life, one-dimensional, and we hold onto the seed. But when we trust that Christ will draw us into their Beloved body, we can wrestle with the complicated truth of the Crucifixion and rest in the trust that we have been made for this work.


  • "i feel heard when"

    "i feel heard when"

    (created at ARC's Theopoetics 2018 Conference, as part of the Engaging Arts as Faithful Practice cohort)

  • ceramic mugs

    I am from ceramic mugs,
    from workboots, quilts,
    and gunmental glitter nails.

    I am from dirt roads off of dirt roads,
    no stoplights, hunter orange, and a fifth season.

    I am from spearmint in soil,
    outreaching growth, crushed, common, and resilient.

    I am from a tradition of healers and uprooted trees,
    from Buzzard and the Holmins,
    from closed-in-emotion and fearful care.

    "you're so smart",
    and "you could do more".

    I'm from infant baptism and earth magic.

    I'm from houses that know how to take care of dogs,
    Christmas steamed pudding, and garden salsa.

    From the worn barstools of Stonewall,
    from hidden medication and unspoken chronic illness.

    I carry these tenuous stories in my body + bones,
    waiting for written wills to unbox the past,
    revealing tenderness and choices made to move away.

    (created at ARC's Theopoetics 2018 Conference, as part of the Engaging Arts as Faithful Practice cohort)

  • ash wednesday 2018.

    What does Ash Wednesday feel like for those who need no reminder that we are earth creatures, mortal, of the flesh?

    Who hear gunshots, see hospital rooms, taste fear, smell fire, touch bodies on a daily basis, hearts heavy and guarded?

    I don’t need a reminder that life is fragile. I witness it on my siblings faces and in their testimony. We are in a broken, scary world.

    There are systems that need to die. There are beliefs that need to die.

    Repentance in words is not enough. Not enough to turn over the money-lenders tables. Not enough to turn over white supremacy. Not enough to root out the seed of violence we sow in men and boys.We return to the earth in order that new life may grow. We should be nurse logs, not remnants of war bombs.

    I am smudged with the ashes of complicity. Of silence. Of not knowing how to navigate the minefield we ourselves planted.And today we celebrate love under late-stage-capitalism. Love that is meant to be holy and good, and somehow we still choose to inflict violence.

    Today I lift up in prayer survivors of domestic abuse, physical, verbal, and emotional assault, and gun violence. God, may you turn our hearts of stone to living flesh, sent forth to enact your unending and grace-filled love.
  • TDOR 2017.

    Planning worship this year was different.

    We had to add new names to the list of those siblings lost too soon while planning.

    For a total of twenty-five.

    Not counting those unknown to us, erased in death, who died alone, due to addiction, mental illness, poverty, more cycles of transphobia and violence.


    I want to wrap my body around the cross.

    Clinging with all my strength.

    When I press my check to the wood it feels like blood and tears.

    I cling harder and the woodgrain imprints on my body. Or my body carves into it.

    This space of lament and fear reaches deeper --

    Like a caretaker or lover holding my heart.

    Risking splinters is the only way I feel safe.


    I’m angry and sad and exhausted at how often I feel those things. 


    My heart sings when it hears about shifting language

    (from he to she to zhe)

    (remembrance to resistance)

    (but I can’t rest in that)


    I want my tears to sprout buds on the cross

    I want my siblings blood to sprout buds.

    And let our cracking ribs

    Breathe in the scent of flowers.

    And rebirth.


    Until then,

    I will interlace my veins with yours.

    And cling harder to the splintered cross. 

    (cross-posted to #decolonizeLutheranism)

  • eco-reformation testimony

    given at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square on 10/29/17, eco-reformation Sunday and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. 

    We always had a garden growing up. It had tomatoes, jalapeños, bell peppers, lettuce, radishes, carrots, and at least one vine vegetable, like cucumbers. My mom made and canned her homemade salsa from the harvest, enough to last us through to the next season – and we went through a lot! What we had grown and picked, we preserved to last us the entire winter and following spring, which, in rural Vermont, is the bulk of a calendar year.

    I remember one year, when, after rotating the crops in our small garden to maximize the nutrients left in the soil from previous years, we had an explosion of cucumbers. They spilled over the tires we had banked to support the plants, growing outward, past the rectangle of the garden into the lawn. And they produced abundantly. We gave freely to our neighbors, my parents coworkers, family friends, and still had to think really creatively on how to integrate cucumber into more of our own meals.

    That abundance from the soil is a radical departure from the scarcity narrative I am fed everyday. Empire and capitalism constantly tell me that there is not enough, that I am not enough. That in order to have even close to enough, I need to consume and buy and tune out, instead of realigning with creation.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can live into our imaginings of the Kingdom of God. And I use the word ‘imaginings’ really intentionally – when I’m imagining something, it is fantastical and energetic and too good to be true, at least in how we live now. It feels impossible to accomplish, as soon as a hint of doubt or cynicism creep in.

    But the earth tells us differently. It tells me differently when I witness rosebushes, cut to the ground, sprout new buds after being covered with burlap and mulch over a long winter, with piles of snow and weeks of below-zero temperature. It is a wild imagining that they would come back abundantly, renewed. It’s too good to be true! And that’s exactly what creation does. It’s constantly resurrecting and growing.

    Even when we don’t see it happening. When I plant seeds in the springtime and water them, growth happens long before they sprout above the dirt. And then they burst forward with abundance, answering creations call – producing enough cucumbers to feed a small rural town, a garden providing us enough to live off of and then even more to share.

    This testimony feels vulnerable in a different way than others I’ve given – it destabilizes me to lean into a vision of abundance because it feels naïve. It’s risky, because there is so much more to lose. In addition to being fed narratives on how I’m not enough, there is another narrative that runs even deeper that tells me we can’t win. That the Kingdom of God in abundance is literally impossible, so why even try? That fear of impossibility and naivety overwhelms me.  Which is why I garden. It’s a radical act against scarcity narratives, and it is also a tangible reminder that the truth of creation is stronger than the truths we are living in. God’s truth, that seeds are be planted in the dirt and then grow and produce exponentially, is the ground we walk on, even when concrete distances us. And when that distance overwhelms me, I sit with the plants on my windowsill and marvel in the reality of their growth and abundance.

  • place testimony

    given 10/26/17 at LSTC

    I grew up in Vermont, on a dirt road off another dirt road. Place for me was always rooted in the soil, in the dappled shadow from maple trees, and winding roads.

    My mom grew up on the beaches of New Jersey – her tactile memory passed onto me is of gritty sand and powerful crashes of water.

    My mom also grew up in Chicago, which was the start of my coming to this place. She was here in the late sixties and early seventies, while my grandfather, Ralph Holmin, was teaching religious education at LSTC.

    My grandfather would walk between the seminary and their house on Woodlawn, daily life marked by seasons and the diverse population that has always made up Hyde Park.

    After spending a lot of time in theater rehearsal rooms, my body has become attuned to the memory of a space. Rúben, my academic and artistic mentor during undergrad, spoke openly and often of how spaces physically transform and remember the energy and work that was done in them – I know that our main classroom felt different at the end of the year than at the beginning. It felt vulnerable, and creative, and full of life. 

    I lived abroad for three years before moving to Chicago, and one consequence of that is I have moments where memory takes over my body – a feeling so real that my brain takes a second to remember where I physically am, because the wash of emotional and spiritual memory is so strong.

    Which is an experience that’s difficult to articulate, because it directly counters what I’ve learned about embodied existence. In that moment, when I actively work to remind myself where I physically am, what ground my feet are on, I can feel the Spirit passing by me.

    It sometimes happens here, in this place, especially on the second and third floors, where the architecture speaks back decades. That experience is really unnerving, because it encompasses an embodied truth that isn’t true in the logical sense. It feels like I have spent time in this place already, grounded, conflicting with the lived experience of being a newcomer in this place. It is both known and unknown, a third thing that is both/and.

    And it feels mystical, and of the Spirit, how this visceral body memory, connected to my grandfather, exists. It speaks to collective memory, and collective trauma. It means that my body and heart remember lived knowledge even when my brain disputes the facts. It acknowledges connections between temporal and physical space. It breathes radical life into the narratives of alienation and separation that surround us.