The Holy Revolution of Coveting My Ancestors – Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb

The Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb – pastor and director of the radical liberationist collective Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee – starts off this last week of Women’s History Month with the history of trans women and how so often their stories are lost under literal mounds of ashes. And as we near the end of Women’s History Month, it is a clarion call that, as much as they have been erased, trans women and femmes have always been among us and will remain. Please read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor

The first time I saw a woman like me was on Jerry Springer. There was no poetry in that and no grace, no poetry but the fumbling drunken poetry of a bar brawl and no grace but that of vinegar upon a sponge. Yet somehow, along with the harsh words of disgust and the sideshow antics, I saw hope.

I wonder what it means to me, to my soul, that my first image of hope was an icon offered up for mockery, shame, and derision. My Christ, my sacrificial lamb, was crucified with a thrown chair and a cheap wig. The crowd was surely chanting “crucify her” even though they only needed one word.


Years later, just like her, I took up my cross and set my whole and holy self towards bearing the sins of our society knowing there was no hope but that which I wove together from the tattered edges of my faith. Like our early mystics I set my face to the emptiness of the desert and dared to believe there was a life to be found there, a life more closely tied to the divine.

In those early days I believed that there was no path set before me. No ancestors, no legacy, no saints to guide my way.  The narrative of my history, the history of my people, has been buried, burned, stabbed, gutted, and reburied so many times that dredging it from the past is a work of forensics as much as it is archeology.

Often we know more about what killed us than we do about who we were.

Even so, the tidbits that survive swell my heart to the point of bursting. Simple allusions to our existence are enough to set my pulse racing, to sustain me for days.

We are so starved of recognition, not just of our greatness or our accomplishments, but of our mere existence that even the subtlest glimpses of an ancestor reverberate like a thunderclap across the drought stricken plains of our hearts.

When I think of other women, cisgender women, I have a harder time considering them as ancestors. While I can connect with their experience of womanhood, it is with a constant mindfulness that they were often complicit in the erasure of my trans ancestors.

That is not an easy thing to overlook.


When we first come into our selves, our womanhood, we often feel as if we are locked away from it by cisgender gatekeepers. We crave the recognition of our cis sisters, begging crumbs like dogs beneath the master’s table. But the more I live in cisiety the more I wish to lock the gate from my own side. To barricade my femininity against the thieving hands of those I once wished to join. My womanhood is a feast of my own making, the culmination of years spent working the soil out here in this desert, watered with the blood sweat and tears of my sisters. My table bears the names of our dead, and it is in their name that I welcome you to communion.

When I invite you in, bow low, for this is deep hospitality.

It is from that place that I want to speak to you. From within that recognition of our erasure and our resilience.

The only solid stories of my people, fully fleshed out and fully human, date back fifty to a hundred years. Not because we haven’t been a part of this culture. Not because we didn’t exist, persist, and resist. But because we have been erased with precision and brutal efficiency.

I remember talking with a friend of mine who is a scholar of ancient texts, and hearing her lament the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the loss of history, the tragedy of knowledge destroyed that we can never regain.

I was moved by her real grief at this loss so far removed from her time.

And in that moment of hearing her frustration I thought about the burning of the Hirschfeld Institute.


The burning has become famous because of a well publicized photo of Nazis destroying books. It became a symbol for the Fascist desire to censor scholarship. I remember seeing that photo countless times in my childhood as my father watched the History channel and I always wondered what those books were. Oddly they never mentioned it, and almost no one can tell you what those books were, their loss overshadowed by the bigger picture.

But trans folk can tell you what those books were.

The Hirschfield Research Library and Institute for the Science of Sexuality performed the first modern gender confirmation surgeries, and was the first place to research and give affirming counsel to those with trans identities.

Those books were our history, our birthright; they were the first scientific texts dealing with trans people. The burning of those books was the beginning of our small fraction of the holocaust. It was the lives and courage of my people, become ash.

So what does this have to do with anything? What is the purpose of this lamentation, this recitation of misdeeds and loss?

The purpose is that I want you to understand. I want you to understand that this is the lens we bring to scripture. This is why we get so angry with those who accuse us of “reading queer people into ancient texts”.  This is why I parse the Hebrew with a fine toothed comb as I wash the pages with my tears, my hair, and spikenard. Somewhere in those pages are my ancestors, covered by the ash and soot and sneers of centuries.

Though their bodies, their selves, their identities have been stolen, covered up, put away, and destroyed.

I know they are in there.

Because I exist.

Because I refuse to be erased.

Because my people live.


Erasure is how we keep people oppressed. Erasure is how we keep people powerless. People need a history and a culture to build power, to believe their selves powerful. It’s the very reason my European ancestors destroyed the cultures they invaded. Why they separated people they enslaved from those who spoke their language.

Erasure is evil and insidious. It always is. But it works.

That is why we must fight against it.

We must grasp our history and wrench it free. Loving our hated ancestors is a revolution, it is the kindling on a fire set to burn the empires. But to love them we must first find them, we must suss them out, even if we must snatch them from the wispy fog of myth and rumor.

So when I talk about my history, about the history of women like me, I’m not looking for solidity. I’m not justifying every claim to those who don’t understand the pervasive nature of erasure. Instead I am loud and proud and firm when I rejoice with Rachel at the birth of her beautiful Non-Binary princess Joseph. I converse with joy in the fullness of intersex Ha-Adam. I revel in the feminine hospitality of the Trans Woman who hosted the Lord for his last supper. And I claim these as my birthright.

These are the Women and Trans Folk stolen from my history.

These are who I celebrate, who I cherish, who I have clawed from between the pages of a book used to justify the same erasure I stand against. So yes these belong to me, they are my people, and you can take them from my cold dead exegesis.

booooooooooooooooobsRev. Alaina K. Cobb is the Pastor and Director of Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center, Co-Chair of the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance, Tri-Chair of the Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign, Founder of the Transgender Crisis Ministry Network, an Activist, Poet, Mystic, and Mom. I once ate a man’s hat just to see if he’d notice his head was cold. See darling I told you no one reads these.

Build a Bigger Table – Nicole M. Garcia, M.Div., M.A. LPC

Dr Thomas Smiling bigIn our continuing posts during Pride month, one of the most distinct voices in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – Nicole M. Garcia – has agreed to share some of her personal story, along with frank discussion of personal theological back-story.  A trans-latina pursuing ordination into the ministry of word and sacrament, Ms. Garcia shares how “we are commanded to love the Lord our God and to love each other as Jesus loves us, but love is just the beginning—not the end,” and what this means for a church that often struggles to be as accepting and inclusive of difference as it says it is. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


Love, acceptance, and inclusion are three concepts I have talked and preached about for many years. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus boiled down the Ten Commandments into two easy to follow instructions, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Actually, I prefer John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (NRSV). I must stress, however, my use of these few verses is not the be all and end all of Scripture. One verse or one part of a chapter of any gospel is not definitive. Anyone who quotes one verse of Scripture to justify their actions are wrong for we must read and read and re-read Scripture individually and in community.

We have to pray and meditate and ponder the immensity of God’s message to us, and then start all over again. We glean something new each time we read Scripture because God is creating and re-creating the world we live in each and every day.

Yes, we are commanded to love the Lord our God and to love each other as Jesus loves us, but love is just the beginning—not the end.

It is through the lens of love that we begin our journey as Christians.

gay christian

I have worked for more than a decade for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the life of the ELCA. In other words, God’s love knows no bounds and Jesus preached about love for all, especially those who have been pushed to the margins. The most incredible worship service I can remember was in Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis on the Wednesday evening after the Social Statement on Human Sexuality was adopted at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Tears of joy streamed down my face for two hours as we celebrated an incredible achievement—a public statement by the ELCA that all means ALL.

There has been change in the church since 2009.  Dear friends who were ordained through Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries have since had their ordinations recognized by the ELCA. I was a co-chair of the board of directors of Lutherans Concerned/North America when we re-branded and is now doing business as ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation for we believe in reconciliation. More congregations have become Reconciling in Christ because there is the recognition that the love of God is infinite. Many more LGBTQ individuals are entering seminary and many have been ordained because of the 2009 decision.

I was granted entrance to candidacy in 2013. I earned an M.Div. from Luther Seminary on May 20, 2018. Honestly, I never dared to dream of actually being ordained in the ELCA, but sometimes dreams do come true.

I am on the threshold of joining the ranks of clergy, if I can find a church who will dare to call me—a transgender Latina who speaks the truth and demands change.

I demand the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the leadership of the church and demand the barriers to ordination and consecration are torn down so more people of color are given the opportunity to earn the privilege of wearing a clerical collar.

I demand the church stand up and cry out in a loud voice against the unjust and discriminatory practices the United States government is taking against individuals who are fleeing from violence and oppression.

We in the LGBTQ community know what is like to be ostracized and marginalized. We have earned a place at the table because we are imago Dei and we must continue to do the work of justice inside and outside the church for when any marginalized community is attacked, we are all attacked. History is very clear—the rich and powerful must have a segment of the population to segregate and persecute in order to maintain their base of support. The current administration utilizes nationalistic furor and white supremacy to galvanize their core. There have been many comparisons of our current political climate to the rise of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany.


We must remember the six million people murdered because of their Jewish faith. We must also remember the six million people put to death because they were branded as undesirable: people with mental and physical disabilities, people in the LGBTQ community, the Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and German political opponents and resistance activists.

One of the German political opponents was the Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man with power and privilege who paid with his life because he lived out his devotion to Jesus Christ by speaking and acting on behalf of those being persecuted.

In our time, individuals are fleeing the violence in Central America and seeking shelter and safety in a nation of immigrants—the United States. They are being met by a militaristic force and herded into detention facilities.

Their children are being ripped from their arms. Their children are being put in cages because the parents are branded “illegal.” The children have done no wrong and the parents have not been convicted of any crime, but our government has built concentration camps to hold the undesirables; a comparison to 1930s Germany that sends shivers down my spine.


Public pressure forced the signing of an executive order stating the separation of children from their parents would be halted, but only time will tell if there will actually be a significant change in how refugees and those seeing asylum are treated by our government.

It is up to us, as leaders in the church, to speak out. We have to take action. We have to call our legislators and write emails and letters to voice our disgust at the way human beings are being horribly treated. We must show up at rallies and march in the streets. We must demand our government treat our neighbors as the Lord commands us—with respect, with dignity, with love.

I am trying to complete the last requirements for candidacy and part of that process is looking at many different ministry settings in the synod. This process has caused me to wonder if I truly belong in the church I love dearly. I am a member of the ELCA because I fell head over heels in love with Lutheran theology, but I wonder if the whole church is ready to stand up and demand justice?

We, as Lutherans, believe the gift of grace is given to all those who are made in the image of God but is the church able to change fast enough to keep up with an ever-changing world?

When I march in Pride Parades and waive rainbow flags, I remember the sacrifices of so many individuals who suffered indignity and insult because they dared to proclaim one can be LGBTQ and Lutheran. I want to be a part of a church that proclaims inclusion in the sanctuary and takes concrete action. There is no exception for all are given the gift of grace and as leaders in the church must do something. We must demand unjust laws be changed and we must demand all our neighbors be treated with respect, dignity, and love.


I am a member of the ELCA for the Holy Spirit has created a place at the table for me and all my siblings in the LGBTQ community.

It is time for us to build a bigger table.

Nicole GarciaNicole M. Garcia (she/her/hers) is an out and proud transgender Latina of faith. Nicole has a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. Nicole is a Candidate Preparing for Word and Sacrament in the Rocky Mountain Synod. Nicole has a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN.

Trump, Arpaio, and the God Who Sees – Joel Cruz, Ph.D.

thomas110_1027092Misery and pain. Arrogance and tragedy. Because of Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, Christians can never allow any who suffer to go without comfort and solidarity. So in the wake of both hurricane Harvey and the pardoning of Sheriff Arpaio, Prof. Joel Cruz shares his pointed but encouraging thoughts on both human suffering and how God stands with us, even when it seems that the pain will never end. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


On Friday, August 25, while the nation watched as an increasingly more powerful hurricane barreled towards the Gulf Coast, Donald Trump released two controversial directives aimed at vulnerable communities in our country: the ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces and the pardon of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As a cisgender man, I cannot speak to the experience of my trans friends and colleagues but as a Latino I can imagine that some of their feelings were similar to mine at the pardon of Arpaio – the feeling of justice denied, of being rendered invisible and inconsequential by one’s own government, the sense of being targeted. I do not want to waste space reciting the long litany of Arpaio’s moral and legal offenses. A quick Google search can reveal how he mismanaged funds, tortured prisoners, ignored hundreds of reports of child sexual abuse, and targeted individuals who criticized him with bogus investigations.

What finally brought him before a federal court was the systemic racial profiling of the Latinx community for arrest and detention. He was found in contempt of court several times between 2015 and July of this year for failing to end his practice of detaining Latinx people without charge. It was at this point, before sentencing, that Trump stepped in to pardon Arpaio, effectively placing his stamp of approval on the sheriff’s misdeeds and giving the Latinx community and the judicial system a middle finger.

I could feel myself reeling at the news. Sadness, helplessness, and rage filled me. Another checkmark in a long list of blatant hatred from this man towards marginalized communities from Muslims, African-Americans, Jews, LGBTQ, and Native Americans. On the heels of his defiant defense of his comments after Charlottesville, it has become more obvious that Trump’s administration has sided with the forces of white supremacy and nationalism, supported by the conservative religious voices who have preferred the power of Empire to the service of the Gospel.


As I scan the comments of my friends who come from Mexican, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Peruvian, and other Latin American backgrounds I see that same sense of anger and sadness that I experience. Many are people of faith. Who will see us when our government renders our rights and dignity invisible?

In Exodus 3, Moses, having fled the Pharaoh into the desert, meets the God of the Hebrews. I know many people who like to focus on the burning bush or the great “I Am” statement. But for me, verse 7 stands out:

“Then the Lord said, “I have SEEN the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have HEARD their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I KNOW their sufferings…”

Imperial power commodifies the marginalized. Like the Hebrew people who were used as slaves to build Pharaoh’s monuments, marginalized people today are used for service — to pick crops, nanny children, or entertain the masses in sport and media. Yet the moment they stand up for their rights – or kneel down—they are, in one way or another, made invisible.

Yet God sees…

God hears…

…and God knows the suffering of God’s people.

Protesting clergy in Ferguson in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown.


What’s more, this knowing is not simply the academic knowing of a fact – like 2+2=4. The verb used here is related to the “biblical” sense of knowing as readers of the King James Bible will understand. It is used of intimacy, of sexual relationship, a knowing through experience. God does not simply know the suffering of the people. God KNOWS it. As Christians, we see that in Jesus, a one-time refugee who was arrested and detained without charge, who was tortured by his jailers, who was executed by an indifferent State to make an example of those who would speak out for the voiceless.

Christian devotion in Latin America (and as the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the New World I include the US) has repeatedly resurrected this theme of the God who sees and knows and acts.

In a continent where indigenous, African, creole, and other people have been used and abused by imperial and nationalist powers, their faith in the God who sees butts up against the god of power and wealth with which the Churches have often sided alongside the government.

virgen de guadalupe oracion para pedir un milagro economico y laboral M.jpg

In 1531, a decade after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor Indian on a hilltop outside the Mexican metropolis. Mary, with bronze skin and black hair, expectant on this Advent morn with the Christ Child, said to him, “I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows.”



The Cuban devotion to Caridad del Cobre began in the seventeenth century, claiming that the Virgin Mary rescued two indigenous brothers and an African slave during a storm at sea. For Africans in Cuba, her yellow cloak and association with the waters echoed the Yoruba orisha, Oshún, who exemplifies beautify, sweetness, and life-giving.

And on and on we see it throughout the continent; the God who sees, and hears, and knows.

Many of these Marian apparitions are versions of the Woman Clothed with the Sun from Revelation 12, whose newborn Child is threatened by the dragon that symbolizes imperial might. Rather than a book of future events that Christian pop culture and bad theology imagines, Revelation is a coded anti-Roman tract and looks to the judgment of God on imperial power and the triumph of the non-violent Lamb. But it reminds us that in the meantime, the Empire will have its way:

“Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.” (Rev 12:17)

Its victims cry out to God under from under the heavenly altar, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev 6:10). We echo that cry for justice when governments and churches conspire to maintain power over others and render invisible and silent those whom they decide are expendable or threats to their way of life.

Yet God sees, and God hears, and God knows.

It brings us to the present moment.

What are the organs of seeing, hearing, or knowing but eyes, ears, mind, and heart?

Amid injustice, racism, transphobia, misogyny, and militaristic nationalism, the Body of Christ is the instrument through which God will act in the world. Until Christ returns we must be the fulfillment of the Burning Bush, of Guadalupe, or Oshún. Make no mistake that God still sees and hears. A few years ago, a life size statue of the crucified Christ was discovered on a sandbar by Border Patrol on the Río Grande. Unable to find the original owner (who would carry a life-sized statue across the border?), the Border Patrol donated it to a local church where the Christ of the Undocumented continues to attract the prayers and hopes of the faithful who know full well on whose side God is acting.


As we take comfort that the Trumps and Arpaios of the world will not have the last word, we must not let the despair of the times paralyze us. We practice self-care and then we act. In the words of Teresa of Ávila:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.”

To that end we – and especially those who benefit from gender, sexual, religious, or racial privilege– must be willing to see the injustices of world, to hear the cries of the oppressed, and to enter into intimacy with our neighbors to know the pain they feel.

Yet this will only be the beginning, for the call to confront evil and act towards the liberation of all peoples is the greater task that lies before us.

Ponce 2016.jpgJoel Cruz is an adjunct professor of theology and history at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  He earned a PhD and ThM from LSTC in World Christianity and Mission as well as a Masters in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Cruz is a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago and is the author of several articles and books, including The Histories of the Latin American Church: a Handbook (Fortress Press, 2014). He is currently working on his next book, a theology of the 17th-century Mexican nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Hospitality: A Burden and Disruption – River Needham, MDiv Student LSTC

ThomasLindaPresident Trump’s recent transgender military ban has once again catapulted trans identity and issues to the forefront of the national discussion – and it is a complicated discussion at that. To help us sort through this, blog regular River Needham has composed a rather thoughtful explication of the complications around the trans community, health services, and the United States military – as well as the lesson this has for the nation and the way that we take care of each other. Read, comment, and share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

One of my first memories of my faith journey becoming my own was when I was turning 18, and the time came for me to register with Selective Service. One of the few gifts of having an ‘M’ as my assigned gender marker. Soon after registering, I remember having conversations about becoming a conscientious objector, because I found war abhorrent, as much as I found poverty and homelessness repugnant. Unfortunately, my faith tradition of origin was not a peace tradition. So I began claiming the words of Scripture as my own and creating my theological basis for resisting war – for resisting the systems that incentivize nationalism economically and seek out disadvantaged people to “voluntarily” enlist for military service.

I share this to emphasize that while I have deep respect for people who serve in the armed forces, it is not something I could do, nor have I ever done. What I write here should not be understood as a critique of individuals in the armed forces, but rather an analysis of the systems that comprise the military and the military adjacent industries.


People who receive a vocational and voluntary calling to the military – they are a gift. This past week we found out through a social media posting that our President finds some approximately 15,500[1] current service members a burden, incurring high medical costs and disrupting military readiness.

In a volunteer Military, we must interrogate who serves, why they serve, and if we are truly a volunteer force. In the book Soul Repair, Brock and Lettini prove that recruiters often target the poorest and most vulnerable U.S. citizens, providing attractive offers of free college education, “three hots and a cot,” or engaging assignments to help develop a career.[2]  The hope of access to gender confirmation surgeries – which civilian health insurance does not cover, with few exceptions – attracts transgender people to serve at a higher rate than the general population: nearly 15% of trans people have served in the military, compared with 8% of the general population.[3] 


These statistics and analysis point to the reality that trans people are frequently in positions to make not entirely free decisions to keep themselves safe, fed, and housed with their needs met. When looking at the brutal realities of underground economies, familial relationships and the general devaluing of transgender people, feminine people, and particularly trans feminine people of color, we can ask more probing questions about the freedom people might have to say ‘no’ to a military recruiter.

Sadly, the U.S. Military consumes trans people, particularly trans women, beyond those who serve among its ranks. Regardless of how much thinly-veiled transphobia might show up in tweets from the commander in chief, these transgender women are a resource that is harder to cut off from use: trans women killed by members of the military.

Almost three years ago, Jennifer Laude, a Filipina trans woman, was engaged to a German National, but instead was found dead in a hotel room after U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton violently murdered her. He had been stationed in the Philippines, and numerous military colleagues testified against him – that the techniques he used to kill Laude were techniques learned in his military training, and that he admitted to using them as part of his trans panic defense.[4]

Similarly, about a year ago, Dee Whigham was murdered by a Navy Sailor, who in just over 20 minutes stabbed her 190 times. Dwayna Hickerson, who recently pled guilty to Whigham’s murder, was training to be a weather forecaster at Kessler Air Force Base. His defense as to why he killed Whigham was primarily the same as Pemberton’s. In this situation, the trans panic defense looks like this: after Hickerson found out Whigham’s transgender status, he experienced rage or fear compelling him to kill Ms. Whigham as a means of protecting himself or his reputation. In addition to being a particularly dehumanizing defense, the trans panic defense remains valid in 48 of 50 U.S. states.

That’s not something I want in the world-as-it-could-be.


In the wisdom of the Prophets, we read: “[…]this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50, NRSV). Similarly, we read Jesus’ statement that towns rejecting his disciples would be less bearable than for the inhospitable Sodom.[5]

In the United States, we have a problem in that we hate transgender people, particularly transgender women of color. Transgender individuals often engage in underground economies. Nearly 50% of those participating in a street economy[6] experienced housing instability, or experienced extreme poverty (living on <$10,000 a year).  These are the facts that burden me.  Perhaps trans healthcare is expensive, but estimates place the actual cost of gender affirming hormones and [potentially] surgeries at 0.14% of the total military health care expense. 

The 2015 Trans Survey breaks down many aspects of transgender experiences. One typical response from our families when and after we disclose our gender journey is to end the relationship. According to the survey, 26% of people report having relationships end within a year of coming out; ten years after coming out the number has increased to 43%.

The reality of ended relationships disrupts my life, and even more disrupting is the realization that trans people whose families have ended relationships with them, or whose loved ones have unsupportive relationships with them, have a 57% lifetime rate of attempting suicide. Having affirming relationships – hospitality – turns that 57% lifetime rate of attempting suicide into a 33% chance of attempting suicide.

In the example of inhospitality, of preying on the stranger in the Bible, Sodom and Gomorrah became an example of how not to act in the world. Time after time the scripture reminds us that their sin of inhospitality is what brought about their end.


Certainly, transgender people are not about to cause the collapse of society. Perhaps other deeper views about us point to other ways the world as we might like it to be is collapsing. Some organizations use the statistics around transgender existence in the world without advocating for needed changes.  Others count our health care a burden while considering the analogous treatment for a hypoactive thyroid to be a reasonable accommodation.   The world-as-it-is is becoming the world-as-it-could-be, and I’m eagerly anticipating a world filled with hospitality for all the people God has created. Where hospitality neither disrupts nor is a burden. Where medication and health care are available in abundance to all who need; and where all are treated with dignity and live until we die of old age and not because of some system exploited us until we die.

PressPhoto.jpgRiver Needham  is a clergy candidate with the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC/MCC), and studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. River focuses their time and studies on fostering trans/formation and emotional wellness within local congregations. River uses pronouns like they/them/theirs/themselves.


[2] Brock, Rita Nakashima and Gabriella Lettini, SOUL REPAIR Recovering from Moral Injury after War Brock, Rita Nakashima. Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War . Beacon Press. Kindle Edition., Kindle (Boston MA USA: Beacon Press, 2012), 2–4.

[3] James S. E. et al., “The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey” (National Center for Transgender Equality, December 7, 2016), 166,

[4] In April 2017, the appeal was resolved, with Ms. Laude’s family receiving P150,000 as Civil Indemnity and Moral Damages.

[5] Matthew 10:14-15

[6] Street Economy is a collective term referring to economies which are not regulated and do not exist in formal ways, but are employed to help people meet their needs. It includes such things as drug dealing, the sex trade, and other economies like trading other services for places to sleep or food.

Jesus Sits With Us in Our Grief – River Needham

ThomasLindaLast fall, our first trans author, River Needham, presented “We Talk. We Listen.” with a marvelous tutorial on the foundational concepts and terms of trans identity. A little more than a year later, River now gives us a tripartite reflection – on the 2016 election, on Trans Day of Remembrance, and Jesus’ reliable embrace in our lives and our pain. As a seminarian and an academic, River lives and breathes and studies intersectionality and their current reflection is a tour de force of complex identity, compassion, and intellectual probity. Read, comment, and share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

This past Sunday, we commemorated a special day in the church year: Next week, we start the year over again and can celebrate the anticipated coming of Christ with Advent again. We remembered the end of the church year; We celebrated the coming realm of God and the characteristics of God’s realm that Jesus taught us. We also commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The past few weeks have looked like and reminded me of the times of Jesus. Just about two weeks ago, our country went through an election, for president.  People on all sides of our national discourse had placed their hopes and their dreams in their ideal candidate.

When Jesus was born, the empire had just called a census. When the time came for the religious rituals of being born, a man at the temple prophesied over Jesus and said: “God has raised up a mighty savior for us, and that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”[1]

How similar it feels: Politicians had the hopes and dreams that people had for Jesus placed upon them. They would be a savior from the status quo or the ramp of progress into the future.

Today, we read the result of Jesus’ unannounced run for political office in the Judean province of the Empire of Rome.  “When they reached the place called The Skull, they crucified him.” Jesus resisted the political system, by preaching God’s realm is coming soon – and the people called out “Crucify Him,” the government honored their wishes, and today we remember that Jesus was crucified – and more than being crucified, Jesus showed us the realm of God brought to earth.

In the US election, there was hope for a Green new deal, a libertarian return to individual sovereignty. Others were hoping to find a way to make our country great or to celebrate the greatness we already have in the USA.  Once we got the vote counts, we realized that something was missing, and I dare say that no one was particularly happy – no matter where you stood coming into the election.   The supporters, voters, and citizens, were each terrified, heartbroken, and reeling, by the election results, the realization that the election cycle deeply divided our country, and that none of our political saviors could save our hopes and our dreams for our country and our future.

Transgender day of Remembrance also falls on the 20th of November, this year.  Some of us gathered to read and to hear the names of two hundred, forty transgender people, each one beloved by God, who were killed by clients, lovers, parents, cousins and strangers in the name of honor, fear, and emotions that are incomprehensible.

We gathered to remember the 55 beloveds of God, who in their violent deaths lost their name.

We remembered those killed by their own hands, because of this cruel world not yet ready for their gifts. Society sacrificed each of these transgender people to our god-like ideals of conformity and obedience.

Jesus shows us a different way.

A better way.

The realm of God.

In Luke’s crucifixion narrative, Jesus shows us that while being crucified, it is possible to reach out and show grace to those who act in ignorance.  Jesus shows us that people can change.

Jesus comes to us in our fear and grief and sits with us.

While Jesus was on the cross, the hopes and the dreams of so many people, that Judea would soon be free from Roman rule, died.  While Jesus was on the cross, the hope of so many people, that Jesus would make himself the sovereign of an earthly realm, died.

As we read the names of transgender people, a few stood out to me and helped a few of my dreams (Well, more likely fantasies) die.

T. T. Saffore

One of these dreams that had to die was that Chicago was universally a safe place for people who, like me, defy the normative narratives of society.  On the 11th of September of this year, T. T. Saffore was killed just a few short miles from here.  She died after her attacker stabbed her over 100 times.

Kayden Clarke

Another one of these dreams was that the demographic information for those killed doesn’t match up with mine all that well, and maybe I would be safe.  Then, this year 24-year-old Kayden Clarke was shot and killed by police responding to his call for help, because he was suicidal.

As we gathered for Transgender Day of Remembrance, God came and sat with us in our grief.  As we read the names, lit candles, and shed tears, God was here, reminding us of their presence, grace, and love.

Later in Luke’s crucifixion narrative, we see Jesus interacting with criminals – who acknowledge that their crucifixions were legitimate while resisting the legitimacy of Jesus’ death sentence.  When they beg for mercy, Jesus reminds the man on the cross next to him, that the coming realm of God would include him.  Jesus, as he was in deep pain, responded to the cries of the fearful and hurting.

Jesus was a boundary breaker

Jesus was living in the realm of God, where we are all siblings together,

the realm of God where we are our kindred’s keeper,

the realm of God where we come together and sit with each other in our grief.

In our national and local political environment, our pain began to grow so apparent about two weeks ago, and that grief has only increased over that time. I believe that Jesus’ grieves too, over a country divided against itself. He grieves over those beloved children of God who feel the need to dehumanize and to kill other of God’s beloved.

She grieves over those treated differently because of the color of their skin, the gender of their heart, the people they love.

Here we see that just as Jesus came to earth and was born during a tumultuous political time, we can rest in the assurance that Jesus has been with every one of us as we have mourned the election results. Jesus was with us as we remembered Kayden, T.T., and the other 293 of our transgender siblings whom we remember this year.

trans image.png
Mary Buttons’ Station of the Cross – Station 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross.

In the Icon on the screen, which uses dated language, the artist takes the violent, death of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1998, and compares it to the crucifixion of Jesus. The vigils and memorials following her death gave birth to what we call today Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Today, while Jesus sits with us in a cosmic, spiritual way, the realm of Christ reminds us that we can embody the values of Jesus by sitting with each other in our grief. We can gather around the things that cause our hurt, find and enact our solutions, and become a community that gathers together, grieves together, and then gets it done and fixed, together.
[1] Luke 1:69,71.

14695461_1768760416727583_664514677993063806_n.jpgRiver Needham  studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. River focuses their time and work on fostering trans/gender liberation and emotional wellness within local congregations. River uses pronouns like they/them/theirs/themselves.

What it’s All About – Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student, LSTC

ThomasLinda sittingEvery so often the Church gets so stagnant, and human beings so ornery, that the Holy Spirit can’t help but step up and raise some mischief. Inspired by a series of internet memes and only six months old, the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is quickly becoming a national force in the efforts of countless Lutherans to make their churches truly accepting and loving of everyone. One of #decolonizeLutheranism’s early adopters, Francisco Herrera, shares not only a brief take on the theology of #decolonizeLutheranism, but even a simple overview of the movement’s first revival, ##decolonize16, completed this past Saturday. It is a simple, eloquent, and inspiring read. So take it in, comment, and share, friends.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

“So what is this #decolonizeLutheranism thing about,  anyway?”

I get this a lot.

My first response is usually, “It’s about creating a Christian community where no one has to prove to anyone else that they’re a human being, let alone a child of God.” Because, really, at bottom, that is what this is about. So many of us are through with being “issues” or “problems” or “too much/too soon/too fast” and not Children of God.

Juan Diego.jpg

Because if you’re a seminarian of color who has heard things like…

 “You’re not a real Lutheran.” “You black people may clap in church, but not us!” “That wasn’t a Lutheran ordination. People were talking while the pastor was preaching!”

…When ethnocentric comments like these are made you are precisely being told that you’re not a human being, let alone a child of God.

Or if you’re a pastor or lay leader who is LGBTQ and you hear…


 “How can a gay pastor marry a straight couple?” “They’re calling us ‘the gay church’!” “We didn’t have financial problems before our church accepted the gays.”

…at some point you start to believe the lies and the Devil rubs his hands with fiendish glee as cracks deepen and spread through your once-solid faith.

And women pastors and seminarians? Pshaw…

“All women pastors are just lesbians who want to be men.” “Your husband approves?!” “You can’t wear a dress like that – it’s too risque for a seminarian.” “What does your husband think?”

@TrybalPastor, aka Rev. Kwame Pitts, welcoming in a capacity crowd of 203 people.

So in order to purge themselves of so much filth and ick, while all-the-same moved by the Holy Spirit and hopeful for the future of Lutheranism in the United Sates, 203 beautiful souls from all over the United States converged here in Chicago (on the campus of the Lutheran School for Theology at Chicago) for one glorious day of challenge and refreshment, sharing the theologies and melodies of Lutheran voices known by a precious few.

And they stayed in this familiar, but ever-modulating choir all day long.

All day long.

We had songs from Mexico and Pakistan and the United States and Germany. We had piñatas – decked in the fullest of Roy G. Bivs – to teach us that, though pleasant to the eye, that sin needs to be destroyed – and that sin’s destruction is sweet to the taste. There were drums – oh yes – there were lots of drums, and maracas, and a cajon – and a poet who mourned that her mocha-brown skin seemed only to be a magnet for bullets for many people.

Then there were stories.

My goodness were there stories! Each of the main presenters told their own stories – about how the church doesn’t really see them, how so many Lutherans revere the Augsburg Confession as if it is Scripture although they don’t do anything it really says or teaches. One of the presenters talked about the day he learned that he was black, another lead a conversation on the Doctrine of Justification accompanied by the song ‘Amazing Grace.’ There were over 30 small groups that shared their stories, talked about what Grace meant to them, what sins they wanted to smash upon the paper skin of that piñata, and an entire assembly sang songs in Urdu and Xhosa as they lamented the ways their own church, that each of them personally, were complicit in racism and violence.

Because everyone has to pee.

And as I myself stood there – posing the self-same deceptively simple question “What is this?” – I began to realize something. As we came together to ask what this day was all about, with little surprise and boundless joy I realized that, as we were dreaming of what Lutheranism could be and could become, all of us assembled truly and surely became the very church for which we sought. We were a church where a queer woman of color had her call recognized by the community and wasn’t gas-lighted into oblivion. It was a place where a black man could talk about Black Lives Matter – accompanied by loud hoots of acclimation as his face streamed tears of relief. Gender Non-Conforming and Trans folkx had all the harassment-free bathrooms they needed and no one ever asked anyone if they were really Lutheran. No one. Not once. And in that wonderful, wonderful day a special clemency, a fresh conviction, and – yes – an amazing Grace – filled every space of the seminary.

“I did not feel like preaching in an alb.” Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Because those of us that don’t fit the default white, cis-het, sexist, racist profile of greater Luther-dumb suffer much and suffer long – yes. But, too, we know about justification, Augsburg Confession Article IV, about Grace. Because many of us were forced to walk a different walk, to straighten our hair, our teeth, go on a diet, to swap-out Public Enemy for Vanilla Ice – to do the this, the that, and EVERYTHING in between – only to be reminded once again that being forced to change how and what we do – to believe that we must DO things before we can be loved – only makes us despise ourselves.

But God still loved us as we hated ourselves and strove to conform. God loved us when we loved our rolls, let our hair kink, smiled at the bounce in our step, and raised a black-gloved fist next to ours as we shouted “Fight the power!” because God loves us in our pain, in our us-ness, even when we don’t love us – and ESPECIALLY when others turn our self-love into self-hate. Because Jesus, well, his blood washed away the default settings that Satan is always so keen to sculpt and keep. And through this wond’rous love Christ lifted us all up to eternal life.

And lots of Lutherans seem to have forgotten that.

So the Holy Spirit called #decolonizeLutheranism to remind everyone of this love, yet again. And that’s what we did this past Saturday. All. Day. Long.

All day long.

And it was glorious.

And that’s what we’re all about.


Before coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor, both at LSTC and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.


My Gender, So Far… – Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson

ThomasLinda sittingAs our conversation on gender continues, we’re going to make a marvelous twist in the road with our next author, Andrew Nelson. From the halls of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to Holden Village to his call in New York state, Andrew is extravagant with his energy, sincerity, and enormous heart. Since coming out as trans a little over one year ago – barely one year into his first call – Andrew has spoken openly and playfully about everything that he’s been going through. Thankfully, Rev. Nelson is now, generously and joyously,  sharing some of those thoughts with us. Gender is a thing, people, so take a peek at what Pastor Andrew has to say about it and – of course – read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

A transmasculine person writing on why gender matters…
There’s a sentence, isn’t it?
Are we ready for a conversation about genders outside the binary, genders along the spectrum, genders that are fluid, genders for which we don’t have words in English?
To put myself in a gender category is easier some days than others. Growing up with a female body (that’s called my sex, different from my gender) there were expectations for my behavior which were only partially enforced. Grandma called me ‘young lady’ when I needed to calm down, my father adjusted my posture at the piano, and of course I had to go to prom in a dress. But when it came to climbing trees and playing music or sports, I was just a kid, and being a boy or girl didn’t come into it.
When I came out as Transgender about a year and a half ago, some of my friends who have known me awhile responded by nodding and telling me I make more sense male than I do female. While this was a great affirmation to hear, it does make me wonder what in the world we mean when we perceive people as either male or female, how we behave when we meet somebody who is androgynous, and why it matters so much.
Everyone inhabits a multitude of spaces: age, gender, sexuality, class, race, mental health, physical ability, education, politics, family systems, culture, Star Trek or Star Wars… We are none of us only one thing, yet male/female seems to be one of the first things we give as primary identity. It’s already been noted that when a baby is born or expected one of the first ways we decide what gifts to get and what dreams to start dreaming is to unveil the birth sex (which we call gender, but these are not actually the same thing).
Gender plays into our power structures, culturally who is allowed to get how angry about what, who is allowed to grieve in what way, who is expected to take care of the household or be the breadwinner. Even when a heterosexual couple tries to live in an equal partnership, the pay gap and surrounding culture don’t support equality within marriage as much as reinforce unhealthy pressures for culturally gendered roles. We’re getting a little better, changing tables are gradually showing up in men’s restrooms so dad can change a diaper, Target recently stopped specific gender marketing toys for kids (though toy guns have an aisle that’s blue and dolls have an aisle that’s pink – and don’t even get me started on “Lego Friends”), and more hopeful stories are being told about folks who don’t buy into to the binary – but it’s slow going since so much of our expectations are internalized past the point of noticing them.
Gender is the water we swim in.
So why do we still hold to gender? What does it matter that ‘real women have curves’ or ‘real men love Jesus’? What are ‘real’ men and women, and why do we perpetuate that conversation as though we need to prove our own validity as human people?
Can’t a ‘real’ person just be a person?
I remember an old movie I used to watch as a kid included the song “I enjoy being a girl,” which, coming from a family where sexuality was taboo and gender got all conflated with attractions and purity, was not something we ever really talked about. But then came the Disney movie Mulan and the song “I’ll make a man out of you” was both exciting because I connected with it, and problematic because it reinforced a very particular kind of masculinity. I mean, my father darns his socks and speaks quietly, but he’s no less a man for his gentle behavior.
So how do I know how to behave to convince the people around me of who I am as a transmasculine person?
Does it even matter that they see my gender?
How do I have to hold myself in public to hear ‘sir’ instead of ‘ma’am’ (neither of which seems like I’m old enough for those labels, which speaks to cultural ageism)? (How) do I need to adjust my interactions with women and other men so as not to make anybody uncomfortable by my loud humor and big hugs, which could be received differently depending on if I’m wearing a suit or a dress? Navigating gendered space, like public bathrooms, is not something we should have to be afraid of. Yet because our brains learn categories as a way to make sense of the world around us, we need to know some basics, some boundaries, some common sense for keeping one another safe and providing for community flourishing the best we can.
Gender matters, in that we can fall back on it for generalities, for stories, for illustrations of ways of being, but it also doesn’t matter, in that there are so many ways to be male or female or both or neither, and every situation and relationship calls out different nuances, different varieties of strengths and weaknesses, as we support and connect with one another. Gender can be a game instead of a power play, it can be fun instead of rigid, but far too often machismo and homophobia relegate masculinity and femininity to small, tight spaces where there is no room to breathe or figure out who we actually are. We do not need to prove ourselves as ‘real’ men or women to celebrate and discover who we are individually and as part of God’s Beloved Community.
I am a transmasculine person who looks forward to playing with gender expectations, to make the space around me safer for those who don’t fit the binary, to open up conversations about getting to know one another beyond the ‘types’ of our male/female expectations.
I am a transgender man because it is the most honest way I have to present myself to the world around me.
That’s what gender is about, how we relate to and through our presentation of self and our interactions with others, how we explore and share the selves God has created us to be, how we reflect the Image of a God who is so much bigger than our labels.

1234069_10100529137486034_1394595583769889368_n.jpgAndrew Tobias Joy Nelson is a 2012 graduate of LSTC, serving his first half-time call in Chatham, NY. He’s trying to be as visible as possible about being Trans for the sake of those for whom visibility is impossible because it would put their lives and livelihoods at risk. Andrew plays french horn and is always reading four or five books at a time, though he can’t pick a favorite between Star Wars and Star Trek because the musical scores are too good. He writes in tribute to his mother, who responded to his public gender transition with the assurance that she “always knew [she] was carrying a boy.”