Re-Naming God and Smashing Idols – Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student at LSTC

Linda Thomas at CTS eventHave you ever heard a grown man squeal? That’s precisely what happened when I asked this week’s writer, Francisco Herrera – the blog manager for “We Talk. We Listen” – to write a piece on theological language and gender. Though he mostly writes about race and power in the church, he also has a keen interest in sexuality, gender and power and it shows. And through his humor, he leaves us all with a jolting reminder that, if we don’t open ourselves to myriad ways of talking about God, then we can very well sacrifice others on the idols of our own theological complacency. Take a peek and share!

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


My first serious object lesson in adventurous theological language happened about four years ago when I had to prepare a Bible study for a class. The professor gave us four Biblical excerpts from which to choose – two safe (from John 3 and John 5) and two risky (Ephesians and The Song of Songs) and left it up to us to decide.

The first presenter, who we will name “Emily,” chose the snippet from Song of Songs, and had us start the exercise by reading this juicy bit to ourselves:

Listen! My beloved! Look! Here he comes,leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice. My beloved spoke and said to me,“Arise, my darling,my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”  

(Song of Songs 2 : 8-13)

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“When we read Scripture,” she began, “we tend to understand it through three basic hermeneutical lenses.” At this point she started writing on the board. “It is either God speaking to us, Jesus speaking to us, or people speaking to each other.” She paused for effect and then looked calmly but determinedly back at the class. “So my question is this…

“If this excerpt from the Song of Songs is God speaking to us, what does it say about God?”

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Woman and Flowers – Marc Chagall

The responses from the other students were sweet and anodyne. God loves us. God cares for us. God wants to be with us, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Riled up, but leery and afraid to start trouble, I did my best just to sit and keep quiet. Emily wasn’t having it, though. And likely intuiting my impatience, she soon keened her green eyes and elvish grin hard upon me and asked:

“So Francisco…what do you think?”

Duly summoned, and with the knowingest grin easing across my face, I steadied myself and replied:

“God is a woman… who loves us, who desires us, who wants to make love to us, who longs for us in a perfumed garden, eagerly waiting to give herself to us with passion and abandon.”

And as I spoke, seduced by my own imagination, there I was – languishing in some highland orchard, hiding myself among the apple and peach blossoms – oiling my skin, lining my eyes with kohl, waiting for my Lord to come so that that he could delight in me, and I could delight in him.

tumblr_m4pda2yY5p1r0y25wo1_1280.pngThough utterly predictable, the group freak-out that ensued was truly one for the books:

“Well, I don’t think it is right for you to sexualize women like that.”

“But I don’t know how you could say that, there aren’t even any masculine pronouns here.”

“But appealing to that base kind of imagery is something completely unbefitting of a pastor.”

And my favorite question/accusation?

“I don’t know how you could have possibly come up an answer like that anyway…”

To which I grinned and, calmly gesturing at Emily, retorted: “Well, I’m simply following her paradigm.” Emily was maybe a bit too discreet to look me in the eye that moment, but I could still plainly see that the ends of her grin were stretched back on her face tight enough to lick her ears. It may have been problematic to think of myself as a highly-aroused, female concubine- but oh my was it ever fun and revealing!

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And yes, I was being provocative, at least for this crowd, but I believed my insolence towards the class honest and just. Despite the shocking nature of what I said, in truth, my comment was actually a classic example of biblical literalism. If this excerpt is God speaking to us, well then, God is a woman who wants to have sex with us – apples and turtledoves and young stags and all. No imagination necessary. What’s more, these soon-to-be-pastors’ well worn theological tropes – though socially acceptable – completely drained this holy Scripture of its unquenchable fire and, well, butchered its song. But what really took my breath away was how quickly students moved to hush me – scandalized by the idea that God could possibly be a sexually active woman.

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Had I talked about her in more socially acceptable tones – as if God were a woman like a statue of the Virgin Mary: flawless, impassible, and white-washed – I doubt they would’ve protested. Suggesting that God could be like a woman with passions and desires on the other hand, like pretty much all of the women that I have ever known, was just too much.

No one wanted to explore my ideas, extrapolate or even humor me condescendingly. They just blindly contradicted my musings and tried their best to move on. It chilled me to the bone – conscious or no – to realize that my own peers were committing a kind of theological idolatry. Their understanding of the relationship between sex and gender and God was so upset by my insolence that their basic response was to try to shut me up. Looking back in hindsight, feminist liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid would have called my interpretation a classic example of indecent theology; speaking unapologetically about gender, sex, power, and God in such a way that it exposes the hypocritical violence inherent in so much respectable “church talk,” even (and sometimes especially) progressive theological God-Talk.

And at that point I could truly appreciate how shocking and vital it was to speak of God not only as “not male,” but in brave and shocking ways, indecent ways – because doing so exposes the hidden idols in our theology that so often blind us to the pain and suffering  and oppression that we initiate and/or perpetuate.

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“Christa” – Edwina Sandys

Let’s even do a test here, now, and pay attention to yourself and see how you twitch:

Think about God as: a sexually active woman, as “daddy” (Abba), speak of Christ as “Crista”a controversial statue depicting Jesus as a nude, crucified womana woman in labor, as the plague of the first-born, as a good Samaritan. Even in literature. Think of  Shug, from Alice Walker’s epochal the Color Purple, talking about how she felt closer to God while having sex; or Nedjma’s scintillating memoir on Islamic womanhood – The Almond – where she reflects on how God loves us so much that they delight in our delight and “even watches over us while we snore.”

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Using such powerfully transgressive language for God often does a fine job of exposing destructive limitations in our theology, limitations that we have been taught, even inherited – and hence makes it easier for us to query them and, as with any idol, to smash them. And if we don’t, we run the risk of sacrificing our friends, loved-ones, colleagues, and parishioners on theologies that serve nothing but our own arrogance, convenience, or own our unholy hungers.

Plus you might even make new friends! – as Emily and I most certainly shared a quiet giggle to ourselves, leaving class together and sporting the same sly, knowing smirk.

We’d broken a few barriers that day, and hopefully, some more imagination would come from it. Some more grace might come from it, too, and maybe – just maybe – even some more love.


10426792_10152402252785213_3657317853318980302_n.jpgBefore 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 He completed his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012 and then began Th.M./Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Fall of 2014 – his emphasis on World Christianity and Global Mission. A polymath and a scatterbrain, when he isn’t preparing for school stuff he blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com and Tweets at @PolyglotEvangel.

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.”

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”


We Journey Together: Pete Pero from the Classroom Seat – Abel Arroyo Traverso

Picture 002The next installment in our hommage to Dr. Pero is the following piece by Abel Arroyo Traverso, a student at the seminary where I teach – the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. A Candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Abel’s piece is both a moving tribute of one of Dr. Pero’s former students, as well as a potent addendum to the ELCA’s current conversations on race. Read, enjoy, and share!

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


 

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Here’s that smile I remember so well.

As I walked into the classroom two things were clear to me – I had a marginal idea of what this class was about, and I wasn’t doing it out of some kind of theological curiosity. I signed up for a class on “The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr.” mainly because someone I liked was in that class.

As you can see, I would never claim to be a paragon of virtue.

As I waited for class to start and texted the person I had literally signed up this class for, in came Doctor Pero. I immediately dropped the conversation, primarily out of respect for this man I was seeing for the first time. But by virtue of his presence in the room I had an immediate realization. I had no idea there were scholars of color in the ELCA.

 

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Me getting ready to preach.

Being a first generation immigrant in the ELCA for me means that you are kind of stuck in – sorry, intrinsically belong – in certain circles and read certain books and hear about certain authors and last names. One KNOWS there’s people of color in the ELCA because, well, I’m here, and I’m not the first nor the only one. But thus far my experience with people of color in church was that we’re great for mission development and task forces. You know, we’re “voices” and “perspectives” – great to enrich the discourse of the larger church.

The man in front of me was loud and outspoken, loving and relatable, cheeky and truthful. With his laughter and constant challenge to not think about how we can love but to love, was probably the most revolutionary concept I have heard so far in my seminary career. It was hope for me.

Now please don’t get me wrong, we were not close. We never shared martinis and talked about his journey (Doctor Pero was fond of martinis). We never talked about his experience as a scholar of color. We never talked about any of that. Do I regret it? Yeah, but as I look forward in my own career, call, and ministry, as I look back and recognize the shoulders on which I stand, I feel honored to have meet him.

As the semester unfolded this man not once lectured. Rather, he shared his journey with the students, as if sharing the most precious thing he could offer, and I actually started paying attention. I poured through the Revered Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr’s sermons – and as I started to grasp his idea of the “Beloved Community” I found similarities to my understanding of comunidad.

When I speak of comunidad  (Spanish for “community”), I speak of a space where the common experience is one of liminality, not of ends. A space where people can embrace in the fluidity of their journey, and know that even if we distance one another – be it through moral or ethical stands, socio-economic realities or ideological discourse – one can still acknowledge that growth is possible and belonging is unquestioned.

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I believe this understanding of comunidad as a communal journey rather than an established end echoes the concept of “the Beloved Community” where transformation is key, and establishing new bonds between the ones who once only related as oppressed and oppressor is possible.

Through Doctor Pero’s stories in that classroom not only did I learn about African American theology, but also was inspired to articulate my own theological voice, not as an ELCA Lutheran, but as a Latino, an immigrant, and a Lutheran who is part of the ELCA. Doctor Pero’s example, examine one’s life as a completely valid resource of theological reflection, was a breath of fresh air for me – to look deep into one’s own story to recognize the Holy Spirit being active throughout the whole thing.

As a Latino, one of the stereotypes we are faced with is that we feel our feelings, and we feel them unabashedly. So I started to deal with my own story and my own feelings as resources for theological reflection.

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Mama, me, and papa.

I learned from Doctor Pero to recognize plurality within myself, and learned how every label I carried, self-imposed or otherwise, could not and should not exist in a vacuum. That one can’t separate feelings and thoughts, which closely shape one another, so that every experience we have has the potential to shape our understanding of the world and the divine.

Thanks to Doctor Pero now I know that I am not an asset to the church, I am the church.

That my story is not tangential to the church, but integral to it. That I hold within my journey both privilege and oppression. That my voice and the voice of every person of color in the church is necessary to grow, to upset the status quo, to reclaim and to lift what the dominant culture is not willing to engage or is blind to. 

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A baptism at one of the sites of my internship. Baptism was crucial to Doctor Pero.

My stepping into that classroom may have started as anecdotal, almost an afterthought, but as I keep going through my journey as a seminarian – and as a person of color called to the ministry of word and sacrament in the United States – Doctor Pero was the one who challenged me to look at my journey not only as my own, but as part of the journey of the communities of color and our faith journey in the United States.

I hope that as the years go by I don’t forget that my journey, as well as everyone else’s, is a God given gift that makes up the complex and multi-layered tapestry that is the church.

And if all else fails, I will at least know that a martini will not solve anything, but it will give you space to think.


 

Abel Arroyo is a student at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Originally from Perú, his journey has taken him to explore almost all of Central and North America (No love for Canada yet). He has spent parts of his journey in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico as well as living in Washington state and California. A bona fide wanderer who struggles with linear time as an absolute, he is currently doing a pastoral internship in Phoenix, Arizona where he journeys with the Queer, Latino and Homeless communities of Central Phoenix – as well as the occasional suburbanite. All are welcome.

A Few More Queerly Lutheran Sinner/Saints – Rev. Megan Rohrer Pastor, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco

Two weeks ago “We Talk. We Listen.” featured a post by River Needham​ on transgender identity and the distinct issues their community faces. We are now continuing this discussion on Christianity and queerness with a post by Rev. Megan Rohrer​, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco, and author of a FASCINATING study of Lutheran theology and queer identity succinctly titled “Queerly Lutheran.” Read, enjoy, and share!

Picture 002Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas  – Professor of Theology and Anthrpology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.” 


Every Sunday during communion, pastors around the world invite angels and archangels, saints and mentors from other times and spaces to join with us in the Eucharistic feast. For the mystically minded, this moment invites a Transfiguration into our sacrament, syncs us to the rhythms of the faithful who have come before us and allows us to acknowledge our ancestors.

For those living on the margins, with few opportunities to hear about how people “like them” are a part of God’s sacred stories, this is an opportunity for us to imagine those with similar skin tone, disabilities, backgrounds, classes and struggles to be present at the altar and expand our imagined representation of who is worthy to not only receive communion, but to serve it.

My first book, Queerly Lutheran, is a collection of essays published by Wilgefortis Press in 2009 (a few months before the ELCA changed its policies to allow openly LGBT clergy stand on both sides of the communion altar). Queerly Lutheran’s appendix includes a 42 page prayer calendar of extraordinary LGBT faith leaders, bible characters, officially recognized saints and contemporary saint/sinner Lutherans who worked within the church to ensure a full inclusion of LGBTQ pastors and worshippers.

Within the prayer calendar are the stories of brave congregations and 18 openly LGBTQ pastors who ritualized the Medieval accounting of disobedient ordinations held by Martin Lutheran and recorded in the Smalcald Articles.

Before the rebellious ordination of a gay man and two lesbians in 1990, the late Bishop of Stockholm Krister Stendahl, sent his blessings and dubbed the ordinations “extraordinem” or extraordinary. During the following two decades it would take for the ELCA to change its policies, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries supported and credentialed the pastors serving in Exodus.

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Pastor Megan Rohrer being received into the ELCA in 2010, with a laying on of hands of three Lutheran and one Episcopal Bishops. (Photo by Pamela Diane Gilbert-Snyder)

In 2010, when I was one of the first seven openly LGBTQ pastors (five extraordinarily ordained, one transferred from the Missouri Synod and one expelled from the ELCA by trial), we and all the clergy assembled wore green stoles, embodying the shift in our ministries to Ordinary Time.

Five years have passed since that Service of Reconciliation was held in San Francisco. Since then, countless Lutheran sinner/saint pastors have been able to live into their full fabulousness, come out and a new generation of pastors have been ordained Ordinarily.

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Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

August 16: Pastor Rev. Teresita Valeriano – On this date in 2013, Pastor Tita became the first openly LGBTQ pastor invited to participate in a pastoral role at an ELCA Churchwide Assembly. A mission developer serving in Northern California’s East Bay (near San Francisco), Pastor Tita previously served as a Regional Officer for North America at the Lutheran World Federation.

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Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

March 30th: Pastor Beate Chun – On this date in 2014, Pastor Beate (pronounced “Be”) was installed as the pastor of St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. A few years prior, in her fifties, Pastor Beate fell in love with her wife Alex.

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Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

April 26th: Pastor Matthew James On this day in 2013, Pastor Matt, who identifies as bi-racial, Caucasian and African-American, was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA. Pastor Matt is the first openly gay pastor in the Lutheran church to identify as bi-racial (Caucasian and African-American). Here is a video of his ordination.

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Photo courtesy of Pastor Angel’s Facebook page

April 26: Pastor Ángel D. Marrero-Roe – On this day in 2015, Pastor Ángel was called to develop a new congregation in the New England Synod. It is believed that Pastor Ángel is the only openly gay Latino, mother-tongue Spanish pastor serving in the ELCA.

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Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

June 8th: Pastor Andrew Nelson – On this date in 2015, the transgender LSTC alum (MDiv 2012), informed the council at Christ our Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Chatham, NY that he was changing his name to Andrew. That night, the council approved a letter to inform the congregation and Pastor Andrew began openly and courageously embodying the beautiful Lutheran that God called him to be.

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Photo by Pastor Megan Rohrer

July 2nd: Pastor Asher O’Callaghan – On this date in 2015, Pastor Asher was ordained at the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver in what was reported to be the first Ordinary Ordination in the ELCA of a transgender pastor. Some of the transgender pastor’s story was chronicled in Pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber’s book Pastrix. Also, The Lutheran published a piece on his ordination this past summer.

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Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

July 18th: Bishop Kevin Kanouse – On this day in 2015, Bishop Kevin came out to 400 people at the Detroit Youth Gathering. In his third term as Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area, Bishop Kevin has been married to his wife for 40 years. Read Bishop Kevins blog post about coming out at the Youth Gathering.

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Photo courtesy of Craig Kohlruss – The Fresno Bee

August 9th: Pastor Bill Kenezovich – After experiencing unimaginable child abuse to repress his own sexuality, as the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco (where I currently serve) Pastor Bill passionately protested the election of the Extraordinarily Ordained Pastor Jeff Johnson as the Dean of the San Francisco Conference. More than two decades later, and near the edge of suicide, Pastor Bill came out to his family and then in a sermon to his congregation. Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Fresno gave Pastor Bill’s sermon a standing ovation and recently voted to welcome and affirm LGBTQ individuals in all aspects of their ministry. Read more about Pastor Bill’s story here.

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Photo by Pastor Megan Rohrer

September 21st: Bishop Guy Erwin – On this date in 2013, Bishop Guy became both the first Native American and openly gay bishop in the ELCA. Ordained on May 11, 2011, Bishop Guy was previously the Gerhard & Olga J. Belgum Chair of Lutheran Confessional Theology and a Professor of Religion and History at California Lutheran University. A year later on May 31, 2012 Bishop Guy was elected the Bishop of the Southwest California Synod. See video from the installation.

Photo by Megan Rohrer
Photo by Pastor Megan Rohrer

November 18th: Bishop-elect Daniel Harms – On this date in 2014, Pastor Dan told me the story of his election as a bishop in the Lutheran church in 1979. After the election, Bishop-elect Dan was strong armed into coming out to those assembled. Despite the reaffirmation of the election in two more ballots, the Bishop-elect was bullied into withdrawing his name before he was installed. Over the next four years, Pastor Dan fought to remain a pastor. The bishop elected in his place, asked Pastor Dan choose between remaining a pastor or divorcing his husband. Ultimately, Pastor Dan was removed from the official roster of pastors, but he remains married to his husband.


RohrerPastor Megan Rohrer is the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, is currently pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran in San Francisco, and is a contributing blogger of the ELCA’s Living Lutheran. Pastor Megan was a 2014 honorable mention as an Unsung Hero of Compassion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, received an Honorary Doctorate from Palo Alto University, a Distinguished Alum award from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in transgender nonfiction is an award winning filmmaker and historian. You can learn more about Pastor Megan’s online “Bible Study that Doesn’t Suck”* and other creative ministry projects at www.progressivelutheran.com.

*Bible Study that Doesn’t Suck – is the name of a personal Bible study that Rev. Rohrer leads online.

Trans/forming our World, our Words and our Selves – River Needham

Our blog, We Talk:We Listen now adds gender diversity to our blog’s ongoing conversation about race/racism. Intersectionality* across identity and difference brings additional awareness of the ways in which our lives overlap.


Imago Dei — Made in God’s Image…

The theological notion that all human beings are made in God’s image; that all humans reflect God’s embodied presence is considered normative in the Christian context. However, that which is normative in Christian doctrine is not necessarily incorporated into our lived lives.

Trans-folk are indeed made in God’s image. In recent years the glorious dynamism of the trans community has been poignantly visible in virtually every media and even – in the case of the next writer – in the halls of LSTC. So please read and enjoy the following reflection upon transgender identity and pay close attention to River’s heartfelt tutorial on trans-identity and respect.

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


The title of this blog inspires me: We Talk, We Listen. I am writing from the perspective of a transgender person. We live in beautifully complex matrices of power. At the most basic level this means that we are all both oppressed and oppressor. 

At the same time, I am oppressed because of my gender expression as someone feminine-of-center, my size, my transgender status, my mobility challenges, my history in poverty and mildly for my denominational heritage. On the other side of that same token, I am white, grew up in a Christian household and retain my Christian faith tradition, and have the resources to pursue a graduate degree – items which either give me privilege, or point to the privilege I already have.

WeTalkWeListenOneUnderstanding this matrix of privilege, allows me to point out one of the most frightening facts about being transgender in the United States today: according to the study Injustice at Every Turn, transgender people have a dramatically higher rate of dying due to unnatural causes – a 41 percent chance of having attempted suicide; the rate climbs to 49% if only black transgender people are considered.

Both of these are over 10 times the rate for the general population.

Similarly, nearly 80% of transgender people are harassed in educational settings. As a student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, I am thankful that although my gender dysphoria could be life threatening, I have been able to pursue transition in ways that were life giving and which allowed me to minimize the crushing dysphoria I experienced before it crushed me.

Yet, I must also acknowledge that I am part of the 80% of transgender people who have been harassed in an educational setting because I am transgender.

WeTalkWeListenFourAs a person who was assigned male at birth (AMAB), transition (the process of changing one’s gender presentation or performance to match an individual’s gender identity) involves multiple steps, much as coming out as gay, lesbian or bisexual might mean different ways of identifying and different ways of telling those identities to people.

First, I came out to myself – after living with three other men for a semester, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was not like them in ways that I couldn’t explain. Second, I had to get to the place where I wanted to be recognized for this difference. I initially asked my flat-mates to use the name I was given at birth with gender pronouns like “they” and “them” to refer to me. I asked a couple of other friends to use different pronouns. Once I knew which pronouns fit, I asked all those around me to use those pronouns.

In my first semester of transition, I recall the times I was misgendered by professors in very public ways. Yet, when I pointed out that I was being misgendered, these very same professors would apologize, but only privately. One professor argued that I could not get upset because my pronouns were too difficult to use. As many people can imagine: Private apologies for public wrongs, while welcome, function as a tool to oppress and stigmatize those who are wronged. Beyond that, private apologies for public wrongs show that it is appropriate to harm people. These apologies do not allow those who are watching to learn from one’s mistake. Rather than a classroom of people learning from one person’s mistake, potentially each person has to make that same mistake before that same number of people have the personal experience with each mistake.

In terms of a physical transition, I began my transition with subtle changes, like wearing a hint of foundation over my very closely shaved face, or slightly tinted lip balms to ease the dysphoria. Eventually I purchased a nice collection of makeup, which, have made certain people more comfortable, less comfortable, and generally unaware of what to do with me. I was assigned male at birth, I am a femme transgender person; the majority of the time, my gender expression is high-femme. Eventually I recognized that I am River at my innermost core. Sometimes, that means shaving my face, and spending an hour contouring and making my face look flawless. On other days it means proudly sporting remnants of facial hair and wearing jeans and a button down; that’s totally cool too.

The fundamental core of being transgender is this: The gender I was assigned at birth isn’t working for me, and I want to try something else. As Kate Bornstein has said “No question containing either/or deserves a serious answer, and that includes the question of gender.”

WeTalkWeListenThree (1)This then raises the question of God; why should we discuss gender diversity in a
blog for Christians? If, as Christians we believe that each person is created in the image of God, what does it mean for a transgender person who feels their body is closer to a curse than a gift? What about those who wish to medically or surgically change their bodies?Are their bodies also in the image of God? My answer to these questions is “Yes.” I am created in God’s image, because God created me from Her own likeness.

That said, the image of God in my body is disguised and I have to go on a journey God has given me to find His image; to be comfortable in my body – whether or not that includes medical or surgical transition. Thus, we should discuss gender diversity, because our world needs a witness to God’s love for a diversely gendered people – for people who have genders like a little old lady, and those who have genders something like a butch man, and those who feel held to a particular gender because of social pressures. God loves each (a)gender, and welcomes (a)gendered people into God’s reign – and that includes God’s reign on earth.

fullcomic

*intersectionality: the complex interaction of social locations negatively impacted by systems of power where privilege and oppression are hard to identify, define, and/or are subject to change.


Special Thanks to Sophie LaBelle who has allowed us to use images from her webcomic Assigned Male. You can see more of her work at AssignedMale.tumblr.com and at her Etsy store.

River uses pronouns like they/them/theirs/themself.


Resources:

Injustice at Every Turn is a special study – published in 2010 – on the nature of violence and discrimination against the trans community. This link will take you to the Executive Summary, Full Report, and Racial breakdowns.

Books:

My New Gender Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity, by Kate Bornstein.

Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life, by Lisa Salazar.

Videos:

What happens when…

Trans People share their deepest insecurities about being transgender.

and when…

Trans people respond to the word “pronouns.”