Crafting a Theology of Transgender Time

Defining theology as talking about God often can obfuscate the many philosophical components that go into theology. Temporality is one of these items that shifts and changes based on the philosophical system a theology is constructed from. For people like myself, change and time are the fundamental unit of existence – everything changes except for the instant in which it exists in the present.

Yet, the length of time held in that instant can shift and expand or contract. This shifting and expanding/contracting is a theological phenomenon, calling our human attention to the shifting crises and urgent needs for justice in our world.

It has been written, theology that does not liberate is not theology at all – justice is what theology that liberates looks like in the public sphere.

There are no more crises more apparent than ecological crises, which have been shown grace with the extended moment that humankind has been granted to act to save the earth and prevent the oncoming climate catastrophe. That grace or the extended time that humankind has had to respond has been shifting and ending for many years and continues to end today. That moment or instant has lasted longer than a fraction of a second, extending into years of an instant.

This grows and grows in applications. We can even consider gender transition as a moment where the time frame of becoming – the rate of eschata shifts, marking a difference in the perception of and actuality of time before and after.

Together, we are Made for Eternity

Texts for the day [Using the Wisdom Text] and “How To Survive and Apocalypse” from Breaking and Blessing by Sean Parker Dennison.

Each of these texts opens up the possibilities of an apocalypse – that is an inbreaking of something new. In the Wisdom of Solomon we hear about the possibilities that God’s original intentions for humans to be eternal and endless can exist in contrast with our human expectancy of death and dying.

In the Gospel we hear about the safety and wholeness that comes from listening to the needs of our human bodies and honoring their needs and requests.

Finally, in the poem, we hear the hope of a world that cares for humans both as means of community care, but as a means of survival in the midst of an apocalypse.

When I studied the Gospels in seminary, I learned that an apocalypse is both something bigger and smaller than I imagined. An Apocalypse, or an inbreaking of the end into the now, happens in the blink of an eye. In each instance, God, who took what was formless and void and made all that we see, breaks in to our human lives and realities and changes them. With her power of persuasion, God uses humans, animals, the bread and wine at this table, and breaks in to our world and prepares us for the feast shared at the end with the entire communion of saints.

In my life time, there have been so many apocalypses – the destruction of September 11th, of Hurricane Katrina and the conflict in the middle east. There has been the apocalypse of racism, where certain people are shown that society values them and cares less for them because of the color of their skin.

Yet, with our eyes on wholesome queer content, I want to point to two apocalypses that have directly changed my life.

The first started before I was born and still happens today. Nearly 35 million people died, both because of the choice of the United States government to ignore signs of a coming pandemic and the societal choice to condemn and stigmatize the ill rather than research, treat, and prevent what we now call HIV/Aids.

HIV/Aids is something that queer communities talk about regularly even today – even as queer people are composed of those with both the highest and lowest rates of HIV transmission. Throughout the historical pandemic, which peaked in 2004, gay and bisexual men who died, the lesbian women who cared for them and the other people outcast from their families of origin and other communities because of their sexual orientations and gender identities found communities of care with each other.

In an oft repeated story, healing came for a Christian community in San Francisco ravaged by HIV at the funeral of a member. His partner brought their Fiestaware to the congregation, and together they threw, stomped on, shattered and broke every plate in the set as a testament to holy rage and sacred worth, even when those dying were ignored by the institutions and agencies charged to care for human health and wellbeing.

Today, even as this pandemic continues, the power of community in caring for those affected remains. In the US, die-ins with ACT UP (the Aids Coalition To Unleash Power) and other organizing agencies amped up the urgency with which the FDA, CDC and other government agencies needed to yet did not act to prevent and contain the pandemic until the cisgender heterosexual mainstream felt the pandemic’s effects.

This needed anger, that honored the governmental and systemic abandonment of particularly gay men, fought for funding and cared for the systemic changes that have reduced transmission rates over half in the past ten years. This good and holy anger has opened the door for the apocalypse of HIV Aids to grow a community that cares for each other, and to push for a world where stigma and fear do not win out against science and research.

In the gospel today, I can’t help but feel like the apocalyptic story of Jairus and his daughter parallel the story of this first pandemic. In the midst of the rush to his house to heal his daughter, there is another disaster happening. A woman is hemorraging. She has been hemorraging for 12 years and needless to say, has likely tried multiple healthcare providers, not to mention the natural and holistic remedies offered in first-century Palestine. She has sought out care and has heard about the teacher who heals. In the midst of one apocalypse, another one shows up.

Yet, this is how our lives are; in the midst of the crises that are shaped by our societies, more occur that exacerbate and worsen those already happening. In the ongoing crisis of inequitable access to healthcare, racial disparities, sizeism and economic inequality, the apocalypse of COVID-19 came into our world and wiped out four million people in the space of just over a year.

Covid-19 did not wait for the end of one crisis, or even a reprieve. Each of these crises- these moments of the end breaking through into the now – happens together or with each other. They play off of each other. People of color have increased death rates for Covid, people of size and people living with HIV were and are deprioritized for life saving interventions– because of the ways that healthcare is appropriated and the ways that ethical decisions are made. Yet, in each of the gospel situations today we see that wholeness and healing are possible and not in scarce supply.

During this time when we were isolated from our support systems and community resources, we learned again how deeply interdependent we are on each other. Jairus’ daughter had a community gathered to care for and mourn her, even as Jairus travelled to get Jesus. There were whole communities to care for the sick- just as there were entire organizations dedicated to agitating governments and NGOs to fund research into HIV and to promote safer sex practices to reduce transmission.

I was living by myself when this pandemic started. A raging extrovert and someone who derives meaning from caring for other humans was living alone. I struggled with my disabled body that did not want to function in the ways that I wanted and needed it to. My ability to care for myself and function independently began to fade, yet as in the HIV pandemic, as in the community gathered around Jairus’ daughter and those gathered around Jesus who obscured the woman with a hemorrage, we as humans function best in community.

In order to survive the apocalypse. Any Apocalypse at all,
We have to give up

the counterfeit currency of self-sufficiency,

the mistaken addiction

to competition,

and the idea

that the last to die

has somehow survived.
      The only way I have survived this past year is by clinging to community. By managing a food shelf that fed friends and colleagues, by finding chosen family in my coworkers, classmates, friends and lovers. By learning the importance of finding a caring community, like the early followers of Jesus who cared for each other to ensure that as many people as possible had their needs met.

            In Second Corinthians, we hear God’s promises to shift the status quo. That one day, at the end, there will be adequacy for all without greed or need, but instead a status quo diametrically opposed to the capitalisitic greed of current world economic systems. And in the feast set before us, we will get to taste the first fruits of a world as it could be, of an imagined end beyond the possibilities that could be.

     The only way we will survive an apocalypse – any apocalypse at all – is if we do it together, in community, caring for and with each other.
      Thanks Be To God.

Transgender in Process

One of the greatest things I have noticed as a transgender person, is that the principles of Process Theology are easy for me to understand. Every moment, every day, every breath is an improvisation of gender performance, identity, existence. I am constantly trying to determine if and when to change, if and when to shift, if and when to move into something new, and that is a beautiful, beautiful gift.

Yet, even more than every moment is an improvisation, every moment is a gift of flow into the next- filled with choices that open up the world into the world as it could be, a fundamentally optimistic worldview that lets the possibilities so many of us hope for enter the realm of possibility from the realm of hope.

And that is Good news that I need today.

Dear Family Member,

You just heard that that beloved cousin, honored aunt, or grandchild has come out as transgender. They are someone you love deeply. Yet, right now you’re terrified of hurting them. Here are my secrets that I wish my family had known and enacted when I came out. Clearly now, not all of these hints will be the same for everyone or each experience. Now, I share them to give you starting points for supporting your family member.

First, listening and trusting someone to know their best self is always good advice. Next, if someone tells you their name, believe them, even if it’s a name that sounds foreign to your ears. Yes, the same goes for pronouns. Try them out, and don’t be afraid of messing up – we all mess up – and we all get to try again. Check out

Whatever you do, take your fears somewhere else. Also, take your warnings somewhere else. Your family member is facing a world full of hate. Your fears and warnings sound a whole like like that hate they see everywhere. Today, the world hates transgender people; the world as it could be does not have to.

Then, affirm them in their gender, affirm them in exploring. Celebrate all that they might encounter.

Finally, find a trans friend – not your family member – and learn from them. Love them too. You can learn from them the foundedness -or not – of your fears and warnings.

This post was sponsored and requested by a patreon patron, check out my patreon or support page for ways you can suggest articles and support River’s education.

An Advent of Becoming: A Late Night Sermon on Isaiah 40

Every year, my favorite days lie in between the Reign of Christ and Christmas. These four weeks are often called Advent. They are some of the strangest moments in the Church year. Even though this period straddles two church years the readings all have a common theme – looking ahead to a time when Christ reigns, and Caesar, Fascism, Racism, Kyriarchy, Evil, Hatred does not. A time when the world as it could be is the world as it is.
Each year as I hear the words from the Prophet Isaiah versified “Comfort, Comfort, ye my people,” I imagine the endless flow of suffering and joy juxtaposed in the human experience that is existence.  What might it be like if each moment was a flowing river leading to the time when Christ reigns, or what if each moment was the opportunity to see God’s reign. Rather than relying on a God who imposes their views on all humanity, the persuasive view of a God who permits humans to put God on the throne, and to shift and change with humans seems so much like the warning and promise in verse three of the hymn “[…]
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.”

Every person gets to play a role in bringing about the future as we each imagine it. What if we could imagine a world together, bringing our distinctnesses and find a world that is as safe as it could be for each of us – and that pushes us to be better people. That who we are now does not have to be the final world for who we are as humans. We get to prepare a way for the world as we want it to be, lifting valleys and bowing mountains. We get to change, just as God does.

As life flows from one moment to the next, so do the emotional experiences and the ongoing sense of success and failure. The entire experience is in flux, as is the whole of the church year in this period from when we declare: Christ Reigns and Fascism does not, Christ Reigns, and Caesar does not. Christ who reigns is not yet born, and however, the Word made flesh reigns in our hearts with the whispers of the wind, encouraging us to take the next right decision.   

Antiracism is a hospitality value. A Sermon for The Fifth Sunday of Pentecost, Year A.

This sermon was composed and preached at The Lutheran Church of Martha and Mary on the 5th of July 2020.

The First Reading: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’

“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” –let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’ “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

The Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16“To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

  At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The Sermon:
I want us to take a couple moments with some deep breaths. Think about a time when you received hospitality when you needed it.  Take a couple breathes to do this,

then think about a time when you needed to receive hospitality and did not receive it.

Take a moment. Pause here, then Continue.

 How did these times feel?

Did you feel unfairly judged?

Did cultural understandings or mis-understandings play into what went wrong (or right?)

Do you have ideas about how you might have liked them to go differently?

Have they influenced how you offer – or don’t offer – hospitality in the present?

Keep these stories in mind while we look at our scripture today.

Our lessons today show us how sometimes our actions and inactions have consequences, even unintentional consequences, and encourage us as people who follow Jesus to be aware of our actions and inactions and take steps to ensure that what we do and don’t say and do and don’t do are received in the same ways that we intend for them to be received.

Our stories are filled with ways that intentions and impact did not match, and still there were consequences whether that difference was intended or not. Today, our impact and intent can be different than we hoped for and still as humans, as people who hope for justice in the world, and as followers of the one named Jesus the Messiah, it is part of our calling and commitment to the kindom of God to pay attention to our own perspectives and those around us.

The first section of this first lesson gives us the background information that sets the story up to happen. None of the characters, except Eleazar, the unnamed servant, gets this information until Rebekah reaches Isaac at the end. The unnamed servant, named Eleazar in the Jewish commentary, understands himself to be on a mission from God to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham and passed on to Ishmael and Isaac. Sarah has just died, and the new generation is coming – but Isaac needs a spouse to have children. This story bridges the generation between Abraham and Isaac; Abraham wants Isaac to stay in this promised land, so he sends Eleazar to his ancestral home.

So, throughout the biblical text – from Genesis through the gospels, when someone was thirsty, they went to the well. In the modern connotation, when thirst references someone who feels desirous of  a particular romantic or intimate connection, they went to the well to meet someone.

So, in the second section of the passage where the servant I have named Eleazar goes to the well, there are two cultural norms at play here. First, he is a visitor in need of hospitality. By going to the well and resting, and praying Eleazar positions himself as a visitor in need of hospitality. By praying, he opens up space for the divine to work and be and become with everyone who is, was and will be in the situation.

Secondly, Eleazar being at the well can operate from a place of thirst, by which I mean the well would likely have functioned as the Tinder, Grindr, Growlr, personal ad space of its day. It was a place for people seeking connection to find it. Even as Eleazar was functioning as a proxy, he knew where to go to accomplish his mission of finding a spouse for Isaac.

 Operating within the social norms of the day allows for the story to unfold as it did, and Rebekah to exhibit her incredible strength. In this moment, Eleazar as the guest is offered hospitality at the whim of those who lived in story pivots and she becomes the guest of the caravan – the power dynamic shifts, and for the last time in the narrative of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, we leave Abraham’s homeland.

The Gospel gives us a much more detailed look at social norms and how they cast light and shadow on biblical figures. First, John the Baptizer who is denied food and water because he has a demon, then Jesus, who is accused of being a poor host because of his extravagant sharing with people that were cast out from society, like tax collectors and others deemed unsavory. Jesus then prays and in his prayer he takes these social norms and throws them up into the wind and twirls them around and upends them entirely.

Jesus claims that the rules of hospitality, which society was using to exclude preachers like John the Baptizer and Jesus the Christ, were intended for everyone, and no one needed to be denied compassion, food, drink or whatever was needed.  Jesus reminds us with the words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Think back to the two moments I asked you to think about at the beginning. Both of those moments were likely embedded in story, because we do not live our lives as disembodied moments floating from event to event, but rather as a continuous stream of events and non-events that shape and form us. This line of thought is core to Process Theology. In Jim Wallis’s book America’s Original Sin we hear about the story of racism, the original sin of the United States. From the capture, kidnapping, murder and enslavement of African people for the benefit of White property owners to the ongoing ways that White privilege and racial inequity continue to keep black, indigenous and people of color down while benefitting white people. That benefit to white families and communities continued through generations of acquired wealth that grew, enhanced resources and access, the ability to do things that white families – families like mine – had. From something as simple as a band aid that roughly matches skin tone, to the ability to invest and have the hope of retirement, white people benefit. This is the opposite of the hospitality we heard about today in the scripture; this is the opposite of the commitments made at baptism when we renounce “the devil, and all the forces the defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and the ways of sin that draw you from God?”  Even though those of us who are white will never know the horrors of living in a world plagued by racist policies, platforms, realities and systems, we can commit to learning more, engaging with racial justice more, and seeing where God is calling us in this movement for a more hospitable world. The burden of living in a racist society distorts every human person from their position as God’s beloved, and the commitment to learning about and dismantling racism has been one of the most life-giving, restoring commitments that any one of us can make.

 Process theology was helpful for me in making this commitment because it does not require perfection, or even strong intentions, just an desire to explore, and willingness to let that desire grow into thoughts and actions. Each shift changes the next outcome, which leads to the next decision which changes the next outcome. This is a way that God shows hospitality and allows us to join God in God’s work. Learning about, educating others and integrating awareness of racism into my work is where God is calling me, and where God may be calling you.


Wrestling with God and Names

Sermons are deeply contextual, and they also speak throughout their time and place to people hearing regardless of time and place.

Here’s a sermon for Pridetide, delivered at University Church Chicago on 2 June 2019.

Good Morning, Church! It is a joy to be with you here, in God’s house, celebrating Pride month. Thank you for the invitation to preach here today.

As you know, my name is River. I’m named after the New River of West Virginia and the Upper Iowa River of Northeast Iowa – these rivers were my friends when I needed to tell my story and there was no one who could listen. The New River was there when I first started to understand myself as outside the cisgender heterosexual mainstream. The Upper Iowa held me up when I first publicly came out and had nowhere to go. These two rivers were places where I met God and wrestled with all the information I thought I had, and the realities that I was living.

When I was struggling to understand my faith and my queerness, when I was first coming out, I spoke to my Hebrew teacher, who pointed me to the stories of the so-called patriarchs, shared between the Jewish and Christian traditions. Jacob and his son Joseph quickly became my favorite patriarchs. Joseph, because of his extravagant and gender non-conforming clothing, and Jacob because he was just a bit different. Queer Biblical Scholar, Michael Carden explains how Jacob breaks down the athletic, hunting, provider role of men and instead fills the requirements of patriarchy through sly thinking and plotting. Often these traits are viewed as things to be avoided, yet throughout my years, I’ve learned that thinking on my feet and planning for a variety of contingencies have helped me stay alive and kept me safely housed.

The text today provides an interlude in family drama. The story begins by the Jabbok River, now called the Zarqa or Blue River. Jacob, his family, and his property are traveling from the home he made with his wives and their father Laban, and are returning to the land where Jacob was born. The land of Canaan where Jacob got both his brother’s birthright and his father, Isaac’s blessing on his firstborn. After parting ways on less than ideal terms, and being estranged for about five chapters, Jacob and Esau are about to see each other again. Jacob’s brother, Esau, is coming to meet him; this is the night before the big meeting, and Jacob has prepared for a variety of responses.

In the autobiography I Know What Heaven Looks Like, Rev. Lawrence Richardson, a black trans United Church of Christ pastor, tells a story of family discord and housing insecurity. In his story, he talks about his family kicking him out even as a teenager, before he was Lawrence, because he did not fit into their notions of religious propriety. As he worked his way through high school as a gas station attendant, he would ride city buses and walk along the Mississippi River to bide his time until he could find a friends house to crash at, or a low-traffic location to squat sleep. He sought out reconciliation with his grandmother – who had kicked him out because of his sexual orientation – through a phone call. She allowed him to come back to her home, but with strings attached. He could return only with the promise of rejecting queer identity.

Like Lawrence, Jacob is faced with potential familial rejection and faces the next part of his journey alone. We find Jacob sending his family across the River Jabbok. Jacob’s wives, children, servants, and possessions cross the river and Jacob stays on the other side. For what is perhaps the first time in many years, Jacob is all alone. And he doesn’t even get to go to bed or eat food; there is no mention of anything happening until “a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”

How exhausting! You’re about to meet your brother you haven’t seen in many years, who may hate you, and you can’t even sleep the night before. Not only can you not sleep, but you spend the night wrestling, with someone or something, perhaps even with God.

We don’t know who Jacob wrestled with by the Jabbok, there are many interpretations offered. In the Jewish tradition, Jacob wrestles with an Angel. In some Christian Traditions, Jacob wrestles with a pre-incarnate Christ. When the encounter finally ends, with the being asking for release, Jacob is blessed with a new name – Israel. Jacob offers his own interpretation of the text – that God, through an angel, has given him a new name; Hosea affirms this interpretation later in the Biblical text.

Many of the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are filled with wrestling with God and with churches and families. There is so often a deep desire to remain connected with the traditions that have provided grounding and framework for life, along with deep fear of rejection from these same traditions. Jacob must have felt some of these hopes and fears of reconnection and rejection, as he anticipated meeting his long-estranged brother, Esau. Would it be a moment of reconciliation between the two of them, would Esau harm him and the family and possessions he accumulated? Would Esau ignore the entire announcement and overture from Jacob?

Often, seven or so passages of scripture, the so-called clobber passages, are used to silence and reject lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people. Much of LGBTQ theology and biblical interpretation centers around how to neutralize or reimagine these specific aspects of our faith tradition. When I was coming out, this is where I spent most of my time wrestling. During that time I participated in a directed reading class, where I was first introduced to the idea that there was more to life than trying to prove I was worthy of love, dignity, and respect. There were serious scholars of Christianity who believed that LGBTQ people had specific gifts and perspectives that enriched Christianity and the Church.

There are many names that we place on ourselves or society places on us, such as our sexual orientation, gender identity, racial identity, economic class, education level, job title, religious affiliation, social cliques and national identities. Some of these, like our sexual orientation and gender identities are names we give ourselves; Others, are placed on us by those around us such as graduate, being named as a foreigner because someone speaks with an accent. Each of these names gives us different perspectives on the ways we look at the world, and each of these names are gifts that enrich us as a community and as individuals.
Throughout the Bible, the names or identities which people brought into the community enriched our story of faith and our experience of the Divine, from Ruth, the Moabite, who became an Ancestor of Jesus, to Lydia who hosted an early Christian community in her home.

This week, in Chicago, two mainstays in gay community life have made horribly racist decisions. They’ve chosen to mark their places as unsafe for some, and they’ve attempted to rewrite history, forcibly removing the cultural contributions of certain parts of the queer community. Their actions said that certain parts of the LGBTQIA+ community are more welcome than others. They’ve said that some of the names and identities which we use are more acceptable than others. The act of erasing people and saying some people are less welcome or less acceptable is contrary to the message of God who liberates. Society has rules for who can and cannot be included. Throughout the Bible, the people who society says should be left out are often the people through whom God works.

One of the things I love most about names is they can change. When I first acknowledged my queerness, I used words like gay and man to describe myself. As my experiences in the world and of others changed, I’ve shifted the language I’ve used.

Throughout the Bible, names can shift and change and become something new and reimagined. One of the first stories of naming happens when Hagar, running from Abram and Sarai, received the promise of Ishmael from an Angel of God, who she gave the name “You are the God who sees me.” Just a chapter later, God comes to an older Abram and Sarai, promises them a son named Isaac, and changes their names to Abraham and Sarah.

In the Christian Testament, Jesus asks the simple yet loaded question “Who do YOU say that I am?” Simon responds with the words of faith we still declare today: Jesus, You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and at this declaration, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter.

These stories all point to the ways in which God is present with humans during times of change and uncertaintly. Even when God doesn’t change your name, God is present in the tumult.

A couple years after the attempt at reconciliation between Lawrence and his grandmother, he experienced a period of disruption in his life, and attempted suicide. During his recovery in the psychiatric ward, his grandmother came to visit him. She told him the story of how she visited him every night while he was recovering in the Intensive Care Unit, how she found his apartment, which he had prepared for whoever was contacted if he had died. She read his journal, and saw his prayers begging for God to make him cis and straight. She told her story of recognizing that God did not tell her to push Lawrence away, but rather her congregation did, and she welcomed Lawrence back into her home after he was discharged, both to continue to heal and as part of the reconciliation of their family.

Shortly after I moved to Chicago for seminary, I tried on new names and identities to see what might fit better. As I tried on new names and identities, I realized that I wanted to change my given name. The identity that my old name conjured up in my mind and the minds of others no longer matched the reality I was living. I decided to become River. So I gathered some friends of mine, and on a cool early fall evening, we walked out to the lake, with our memories, our hopes, and our fears. We commended them all to the care of God who sees, knows and guides. During the short ritual, each of my friends said that my name would be River. And so it was.

God welcomes you into the beloved community with the names and identities you call yourself. God calls us to welcome others as we have been welcomed. During this Month of Pride, we turn our eyes to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer members of God’s family who rioted and organized so they could be themselves in peace. In many Christian theological circles they fought too, for churches to recognize their position as part of God’s family. To recognize that when we are welcomed into God’s family, we are given an additional name Beloved of God.

Thanks Be To God

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A Thanksgiving for Names

This pride month, I’ll be offering a few liturgical and worship resources for celebrating pride in a faith context. The first is A Thanksgiving for Names. You are welcome to use and reproduce as needed. Please credit me as the author, and I’d be delighted if you sent me an order of service of bulletin from the service where it was used. (Message me for an e-mail or physical address.)

A Thanksgiving for Names

Many: God, we give you thanks for names
One: For Saul, who you called as an apostle, and whose name you changed to Paul.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.
One: For Sarai, who had children long after her childbearing years were over, and whose name you changed to Sarah.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.
One: For Abram, who you promised children as numerous as the sand on the shore or the stars in the sky, and whose name you changed to Abraham.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.
One: For Simon, who called your Beloved One Messiah, and whose name you changed to Peter.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names
One: For Hagar, who saw you through the bushes, and became the only human to name you, the God who Sees.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.
One: For Jacob, who you wrestled with near the banks of the river, and whose name you changed to Israel.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.

Challenging Visiblity: Transgender Day of Visibility 2019

There’s been a meme going around – particularly earlier this year saying “it’s 2k19, what should we give up?” Today is Transgender day of Visibility. Resisting the dominant narratives in transgender discourse, I’ve reached the conclusion that visibility plays into the hands of cis-normative white-supremacy, and perhaps this is the year to let it go.

Visibility is the gift of whiteness, of passing, and of wealth. When those who are not white, do not pass and do not have money attempt to pay for visibility, the cost is an ever-rising death count across the USA and in the global south.  White supremacy, and it’s close relatives colonialism and the gender binary are deeply intertwined in the lived realities of gender in the United States – and any attempt to confront gender-based oppression must acknowledge the settler-colonial state in which we live, and the ways in which settler-colonialism has and continues to shape and influence the lived realities of people of color in this country.

It’s 2k19. It’s time to give up the unawareness of the ways in which racism, white supremacy, transphobia and cisnormativity are intertwined and interdependent.

Recognizing that visibility is a gift of whiteness, it is important that visibility becomes one of the gifts I am most aware of possessing, so I can interrogate how I use it and how it impacts and influences me. I recognize that often, visibility looks like people stopping me on the street or in the hallways and introduce themselves to me, expecting that I know them.

When I walk down the street I often get catcalled, not just with misogyny but with transphobia too. That is, with transmisogyny.
Visibility means I take extra care to protect my privacy online and in public – often my social media presence and my physical space presentation are offset by a few weeks or months – just to give myself a bit of time to hold off recognition made by significant changes to my appearance.

Visibility also means that when someone wants to transition or explore their gender, I’m frequently one of the stops they make along their way. When someone has questions or wants a workshop on gender, they ask me.

Visibility is a gift, because I’ve learned to make it one. When I first began exploring my gender, I did so in the quiet corners of my bedroom, hidden for away from anything that could be tied to me in public.

These are gifts, because we learn in community with the person catcalling on the street, the person who expects that I know them – the me I hide from public exposure and the social media presence I carefully curate.

Visibility as a transgender person means I am subject to public scrutiny and that means I must use my visibilty to open up spaces for those more marginalized than I am. The sex-working trans people, the trans people of color, the disabled and the incarcerated trans people.

Using gifts to transform the conversation from one about visibility to who is systematically excluded from participation in society provides a means of using visibility for positive outcomes. Inviting the systematically removed to the conversation, even if it means giving up your seat has the possibility to change the world and to leave the community transformed. That’s what I want for visibility, every day.

Toward an ace/aro-inclusive Valentine’s Day

February as a month is all about Black History, Valentine’s Day the Beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  Not all of these things are my lane, so while I support and educate myself on Black History, while I’ll probably go to church on Ash Wednesday, I want to focus on my lane – LGBTQIA+ people and the ways in which we exist and are celebrated or harmed in the world.

Valentine’s Day is a significant day for many people. It’s a time when commitments are made and anniversaries are celebrated. Eight years ago, it was Valentine’s Day when I took the jump and said that God made me gay and God made me good. It was a stressor that upset my family system, and it was a decision I would make again and again. 

As I’ve continued coming out and coming out, gay isn’t a word that I use to describe myself anymore. Instead, I use ace-spec, bi+, trans or non-binary, and queer. Within this collection of identities we have a-spec, or asexuality/aromantic spectrum. Specifically, I’m concerned with making Valentines Day accessible to asexual, aromantic and ace/aro-spectrum friends.

The reality is, friendship and companionship are just as important to us as they are to our romantic and sexual friends. Can we expand Valentines Day to be something which celebrates all of the ways in which humans do life together and celebrate the variety of ways our relationships organize themselves.

When I opened the conversation to my friends on the ace/aro-spectrum, we all acknowledged that while we universally were not fans of the current accents and emphasis of the day, there were ways in which the day could be redeemed. Focusing on the ways we form partnerships and communities – business, companionship as well as the constellations of care which we all participate.

One friend, talking about an idealized celebration of Valentine’s day said it looked like board games and a cuddle pile. Another said it looked like a feast of food from different social locations, cultures and influences.

Filled with social meaning, Valentine’s day is a way in which our cultural norms are passed from generation to generation. Wouldn’t it be lovely to take the time to shift to a more inclusive Valentine’s day? I believe it would be powerful to step away from the alloromantic/allosexual connotations of this day and celebrate the diversity with which humans interact with each other.

Special thanks to my patrons on Patreon for helping make this piece possible.