Archive for July, 2011

July 29, 2011

We Pray: Part II

Rev. Sean Parker Dennison

Spirit of Infinite Love,
Be with me and my people. Help us know that we are loved–wholly and deeply–exactly as we are. Help us know that our faces are a reflection of the face of the sacred, the face of God. Help us understand that our longing to be whole and tell the truth of who we are is holy. Be with us when we are afraid. Be with us when we are proud and joyful. Be with us when we are confused. Protect us from our enemies.

Help us transform the world be being ourselves and understanding the deep need for every person to have the freedom, safety, and support to do the same. Help us transform the oppression we face into determination to stand up for ourselves and for any we see also being oppressed. Help us learn to accept our anger when it is necessary and appropriate and to let it go when it is causing harm.

Help us accept and celebrate the diversity in our own community and show the world it is possible to love each other even though we do not always agree. Help us forgive. Help us listen. Help us let go of stubbornness. Let us worry more about being kind than being right.

Spirit of Life that defies labels and will not be made small by small minds, give us courage to live fully and continue to learn, grow, and transform our selves, our communities, and the world.

May it be so. May we be the ones who make it so.
Amen. Ashe’. And Blessed Be.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

 Your heart, and your soul, have the power to reflect and refract reflect what is good and holy about the world: you are the prism through which the light of the Sacred shines.  Please–for the good of yourself, and for the world that so desperately needs you and all of the great gorgeousness you have to offer–let it shine, shine, shine, shine on.

And may you have all of the blessings of this significant offering from the Jewish tradition (Numbers 6:24-26):
May God bless you and keep you.  May God shine God’s countenance upon you with grace. May God lift Godliness upon you and bring you peace.

The Rev. Kit Wang

As an Episcopalian, I am truly a person of the book, which is to say that I tend to find and use what’s in the book. Here are the two prayers that resonate most often with me as a queer person, a person of faith, a Christian, and a priest (who spent nearly 30 years discerning toward ordination so I could be out in my ministry)

from Psalm 139
O Lord, you have searched me out and known me :
you know when I sit or when I stand,
you comprehend my thoughts long before.
You discern my path and the places where I rest :
you are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue :
but you, Lord, know it altogether.
You have encompassed me behind and before :
and have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me :
so high that I cannot endure it.
Where shall I go from your spirit :
or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend into heaven you are there :
if I make my bed in the grave you are there also.
If I spread out my wings towards the morning :
or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand shall lead me :
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say ‘Surely the darkness will cover me :
and the night will enclose me’,
The darkness is no darkness with you,
but the night is as clear as the day :
the darkness and the light are both alike.
For you have created my inward parts :
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will praise you, for you are to be feared :
fearful are your acts, and wonderful your works.
You knew my soul,
and my bones were not hidden from you :
when I was formed in secret,
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my limbs when they were yet imperfect :
and in your book were all my members written;
Day by day they were fashioned :
and not one was late in growing.
How deep are your thoughts to me, O God :
and how great is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they are more in number than the sand :
were I to come to the end, I would still be with you.
Search me out, O God, and know my heart :
put me to the proof and know my thoughts.
Look well lest there be any way of wickedness in me :
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

Collect for Purity
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that I may worthily magnify your Holy Name. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.  (Book of Common Prayer 1979)

(I pray this every Sunday morning and every time I vest for worship if I’m not using it as the opening of the service. I’ve also prayed it in many times and places when I felt the need to be more opened to God.)

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation, so that you may work for justice,
freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort and to turn pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you may do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.
(This blessing is floating around in the liturgical ether. I first met it through Integrity)

Sunshine J. Wolfe

Oh, Infinite Love, help me face this day…
My heart weeps with fear of violence, of invisibility, of hatred.
Open me to beauty and wholeness, to love and laughter.
I AM enough.  We are enough.
I live in the sacred in-between.  I embody the connectivity and allness of the Infinite.  May I remember that I am inherently sacred by my existence.

The earth is filled with magnificent diversity of which I am a small piece.  May I remember I am a part of the spectacular beauty of a diverse world dependent on that diversity- my existence- for its survival.

When I feel lost, may I hold to the earth and to community.
When I feel invisible, may I have the strength to shout joyous gratitude from the rooftops for all who have seen me.
When violence is before me, I ask for grace through the next moment.
When I feel connected, may I share my love with those around me.
When I feel seen, my I see others in need.
When I am secure, may I rise up for the security of others.

Oh, Infinite Love, I sit within you and shine you out to the world that we may know grace even when we do not live up to our most grounded values.  We are life and we are lives worth living and my life is valuable as all lives are valuable.

Oh, Infinite Love, thank you for the gift of the transcendent both, all, And, Infinite, liminal, glue, connectivity.  May I rest in that transcendent space today and for all the days to come.  aho, amin, ashe.

Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern

To all trans and other folk who are hurting and afraid, I wish you peace and happiness. No god worthy of our worship could do anything but love you, and no true church could ever exclude you. I feel very blessed to share this life with you.

The Hindu god Indra is said to have created reality as a great net, with jewels at each intersection of the threads. Every jewel is reflected in every other, and they are all connected by the infinite, intricate web. The jewels are sacred and so is the net that connects them. And so I pray:</i>

Dear God, you are the between-spaces of our lives. Where one hand reaches to touch another, you are there. Where eyes meet across the crowd and confusion and find understanding, you are there. Where the spark leaps from one mind to ignite another, that is you. Wherever we connect, you are the connection.

Each of us is a jewel in Indra’s net, shining like dew in a spider’s web. Praise to you, the web that connects us one to another!

When we are in the in-between, on our way from the intolerable to the unknown–

When we defy the categories that small minds invent and dare to imagine something beyond–

When we seek others who are on a journey, on a threshold, on the margins, any of the shimmering intersections of our lives–

When we listen to the possibilities whispered within and step into mystery, with trust, with fear, with trembling–

may we find peace, for we dwell in your sacred place.

Amy Johnson

Loving Creator, beyond our understanding yet closer than our breath, breathe into us your love so that we may love ourselves and others as you do.  Help heal the fear, hate, and judgment that wound so many.  Help us know, deeply and certainly, that your love transcends all labels, all categories, all words.  Your love is.  Your love rains down on us all.  Everyone is invited to your table.  We each bring our whole and broken parts and come together in your love, which binds us and heals us all.  Amen.

A Friend

Please don’t be discouraged by the people around you who look at differences as a weakness.  Think of all the times in your life that you have chosen the path less traveled.  Your determination and commitment to your individualism is intimidating to many.  Some hide their intimidation in unpleasant and hurtful ways sometimes through retaliative actions.

Then there are the rest of us.  We aren’t perfect.  We may say things that rub you the wrong way generally unintentionally and usually out of naivety or curiosity.  However, your determination and commitment to your individualism is what ensures the sustainability of this group.  Your stories inspire us and remind us to pay forward the gift of finding a loving community in spite of our differences.

Please don’t be discouraged by the people around you who look at differences as a weakness. There are places of worship, religions, and individuals that will love you for who you are, as cliche as that sounds.  Not only will they love you, you will make them better with your presence.  If you haven’t found that place or person, keep looking… it’s out there.

Abigail Jensen

Having been a student of A Course in Miracles for more than a decade, my favorite prayers come from the Course:

“Holy am I, eternal free and whole, at peace forever in the Heart of Goddess.”

“I am still Goddess’ holy Daughter, forever innocent, forever loving and forever loved, as limitless as my Creator, completely changeless and forever pure.”

(These prayers have been altered from the original by changing them from the second to the first person, i.e., “you” to “I”, and the masculine to the feminine.) Shame has been one of my biggest challenges. These prayers have been so powerful for me because they declare the truth of my innocence as a Child of Goddess and counter shame in all its aspects.

Finally, I will share with you the prayer that eventually led to my own transition. This prayer is addressed to the Hindu goddess Kali ,* she who destroys in order to free us from illusion to see the truth:

“Kali, please remove all that is not real.”

I said this prayer every morning during my time of prayer and meditation for two years. Its effect was not immediate, but I know that, without it, I would not have found the truth about who I am, and be living that truth, today.

*You can read about Kali here: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Kali.

Alexandra

You are exactly who you are supposed to be. It is the rest of the world that needs to change. I will send a blessing out for all of us who strive to be better: Go forth in love. Go forth in peace. May the spirit of Love surround you. We say this every week at my UU congregation.

Steven Rowe

“Are transgender people allowed to pray?”  If one prays for strength, for knowledge, for forgiveness, for help in forgiving,   for clarification, for peace; then not only are transgender people  “allowed ”  to pray, they are blessed by praying.   And so are we all.

Ashley Horan

A prayer for Trans Day of Remembrance:

Transcending spirit of love and solidarity, presence of compassion and justice, we call upon you to be with us today as we gather here; hearts both heavy with sadness and enlarged with hope and joy.

As we come together in commemoration of these lives that have been so senselessly taken, we are grateful for the names we have spoken out loud today.  While much of the world denies the violence committed against these people, we gather today to break the silence and remember together.  Even as we mourn the deaths of those we have known and those we never met, we give thanks for the love that these people contributed to the world.   Although it is their deaths that bring us together today, we choose to affirm their lives and identities as we remember them.

We send our compassionate thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of those whose loved ones have been killed as a result of ignorance, hatred and fear.  May they find comfort and strength as they move forward with their lives.

We also extend our empathy to those individuals and institutions weighed down by the heavy burden of bigotry.  While we reject all violence and injustice, we affirm our commitment to work for change in the spirit of love for all, and to meet smallness and hatred with a largeness of spirit.

Although today is a day of mourning the dead, we are gathered here to affirm the power and dignity of all life.  We remember and extend our caring embrace all those still living who suffer anti-trans violence in the form of prejudice, healthcare injustices, professional discrimination, incarceration or social exclusion.  May we all find the vision and the strength to stand together in compassionate solidarity with one another until the world we live in is the world of which we dream.

May this occasion for remembrance provide us with comfort, healing, and renewed commitment to building communities rooted in love.

Blessed be, Ashé and Amen.

Desmond Ravenstone

Two millenia ago, there lived a people who considered themselves divinely chosen.  They looked down on many who were different, because they regarded those differences as contrary to divine law, and even a form of divine punishment.

Then there came a man, from a backwater town far from the capital, who abandoned his father’s carpentry trade to become an itinerant preacher.  And the message he and his followers preached was incredibly radical.  They preached that love, rooted in the Divine, was not limited to any group, but boundless.

Samaritans, for example, were especially despised.  Yet one of this preacher’s most famous lessons was about how a Samaritan could be more in tune with divine law than any of the highest ranking members of their society.  And he even spent time alone with a Samaritan woman, talking with her and accepting her hospitality.

This society was under occupation by a brutal military regime.  Yet this preacher once praised the faith of a military commander seeking healing for his slave, saying it was greater than any he’d found amongst his own people.

The preacher was willing to question and challenge the religious authorities of his day, and his following grew.  So when he came to the capital city, those leaders conspired to have him arrested, beaten, humiliated and executed.  His terrified followers scattered.

And then, remembering his message, they came back emboldened — and they grew.

Now there are billions who claim to follow this man.  But how many of them do?  How many consider themselves so holy and special, only to fear anyone different as those ancient people did?  How many talk about love, but practice hate?

And the more important question for you, my friend: If this preacher were here today, what do you think he would say?

Anonymous

Please, please know that God loves all of his creations, transgender people most definitely included. Don’t let misguided people tell you otherwise. The idea that anyone cannot be religious because of who they are is repugnant to God.

I wish I could offer more, but I pray especially for people (trans, gay, lesbian, etc.) who have been wrongly chased from churches. There are certainly affirming churches
out there who will welcome you with open arms.

And I pray for forgiveness for the people who have chased them out.

July 29, 2011

“It Wasn’t About Us” – My sermon on the July 29th, 2010 Protests

Andrew Coate
“It Wasn’t About Us”
Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellswroth
Ellsworth, Maine
September 5th, 2010

It was oppressively hot outside, which shouldn’t surprise anybody for the fact that it was late July in Phoenix Arizona. The sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Phoenix was pleasantly cool and very quiet, a stark contrast to the hustle of the community room where things were getting organized and figured out just a few rooms away. The thing I noticed most was the quiet, even with dozens of people around me. “All organizing should happen in sanctuaries,” I remember thinking. I felt like I was flipping through a mental thesaurus to come up with the word to describe how I felt when we gathered to worship and organize on that stifling hot Wednesday evening in July. United? Connected? Included? Loved. I felt all of those things as I looked around and saw everyone else who had been called to come to Phoenix, and I experienced a little jolt of excitement when Gini Courter stood up to start things off. We sang songs, we read things in unison, and then Susan Frederick-Gray, the minister at UUCP, stood up to open in prayer.  More people spoke, and much of it has blurred in my mind a short month later but one line remains clear;

“This?” someone said, referring to everyone in the room, everything going on outside, the protests and rallies and arrests, the legislation “this is not about me.”

It’s a line that would carry me through a lot of emotions over the next few days, both in Phoenix and after returning to Maine.

It was really easy to get caught up in the feeling good aspect of what we were doing that night.  We laughed as we were trained in civil disobedience, we sang songs that we all knew without hymnals, we buddied-up, we met new people, we bought shirts, we shared how we had come to be in Phoenix for this. The people closer to my age grouped up a little, shared where we were in school, or where we had graduated from. We laid out our “activist histories” for each other. It was hard to remember that this was not about us, either as individuals or as a faith community. That knowledge and clarity came at 4:30am on Thursday. This was surprising because not much comes to me, clear or otherwise, at 4:30am.

We had the option of going to the 4:30am vigil and march from the Wells Fargo building, where sheriff Joe Arpaio has his office, to Trinity cathedral where the interfaith worship service was to be held or of simply meeting at 6am for the interfaith worship service. The other person staying in the same house as me was game for the vigil and, well, frankly he was willing to get a cab.

There were a lot of different groups either from Phoenix or that came to Phoenix to protest the “papers please” bill; among them were Puente, Somos, The Catalyst Project, and yes, the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign. We were the largest organized group, the biggest and most visible with our bright yellow-orange t-shirts.

But up to this point I hadn’t actually seen any of the non-UU organizers, apart from the three folks from who came in to train us in civil disobedience. So when we showed up at 4:30am in the already-oppressive Phoenix heat and saw scores of people assembled and not another yellow shirt in sight? “Oh wow,” I thought, “this is not about us.” This vigil had been going on for 102 days; 102 days of sitting in the heat, praying to G-d and Jesus and Mary, holding each other up, hearing stories… who were WE, I thought, to come in on day 103 and walk a few blocks with them? I joined the ranks somewhere near the middle, thanking my grandmother that I understood the instructions we were being given in Spanish, and then walking. I didn’t really talk to anybody. I know that I could have, but sometimes my inner shy kid from middle school comes out. So I walked, for at least an hour, slowly processing from one part of town to the other. I had no gauge of where we were, or where we were going. I didn’t know if the procession would end after the next corner, the next block. Normally that would make me nervous. I like to know what is going on, to have a plan, and know the schedule; but this was different. I was OK with not being in charge. I surrendered, I accepted my lack of knowledge. I trusted. I put my faith in others and I simply walked.

We made it to the cathedral by 6:00, and after some photo ops and a few words to media we filed into the cathedral. There were hundreds of people there, squished in the pews, grouped voluntarily by faith or organization. The order of service listed speaker after speaker, each with their title next to their name. There was an Imam, a Rabbi, a couple of politicians, a UnitarianUniversalist minister, and a whole lot of Christianity.

“THIS is not about us.” I thought ruefully, as I sat down. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this level of Christianity; it had been a long time. So I sat when I was expected to sit, stood, sang, bowed my head, and when I found myself getting annoyed with the “Jesus talk” I would look around, and realize that at least some people were paying rapt attention to whoever was speaking. Just as the UUs all paid attention to Reverend Frederick Gray when she was speaking because she was saying what we needed to hear, everyone else was hearing what they needed to hear.

All through that day a lot of folks were struggling with what our role was in Phoenix. Struggling with what it meant to have white privilege and be protesting this bill and have had the ability to come from all over the country. I sent dozens of updates to Facebook and Twitter over those days; some were strictly updates on what was happening, but many were my trying to process who I was and why I was there.

As I sent those updates, and got peoples’ replies to my cell phone I found myself growing frustrated. People kept thanking ME, saying that I was doing something important, that I should be proud of myself because they were proud of me.

NO, I kept shooting back, STOP IT. STOP IT! This is NOT ABOUT ME! This isn’t about my Latino heritage, my experience as an activist, my age, my energy. I was annoyed that people were so insistent that I was doing anything extraordinary. Yes, I was there and yes, that is something that not everyone can say. But by making it out to be something extraordinary, unusual, pride-inducing, or congratulations-worthy it was, in my mind, detracting from why we were there. That’s a lot to explain in the 140 characters of twitter, or the 230 my phone allows before splitting it into separate texts.

It’s a lot to explain while you are also standing in oppressive heat, running water to protesters and police alike, and trying to answer questions that people are lobbing every which way. All of that, combined with the fact that I wasn’t quite sure myself why the continuous insistence on people being proud of me was driving me up the wall.

That night I sat with new friends and talked to them. We were waiting outside the county jail for our protesters to be released and there wasn’t much to do but talk. the singing was done, the chanting, the water runs, the text updates from the campaign, all of it. Now it was simply a waiting game. I shared what I was struggling with, they shared what they were struggling with.

Many of us had the same problem; how do we bring this back to our home communities in any meaningful way? Many, dare I say most, of us would be leading worship services on the topic, but aside from that we didn’t have much to go on. Our conversation was cut short at 2:30am when our first protester was released. We clapped and hugged and laughed as he told stories. I was left to think on my own, which was probably a good thing.

**********************

One of the hardest things about leaving Phoenix was that I was returning to a place where nobody had shared in the experiences of what I had just done. I was tired and sun-soaked, I had slept very little in the past 72 hours but that didn’t matter. I had a million “inside jokes” that I could never explain to anybody because, really, those things are never funny when you weren’t there. I had things I wanted to laugh about and share that I couldn’t articulate. I had songs swimming around my head that I wanted to sing. I had tears that I simply had to cry and no way to explain what they were about. I spent a lot of time online in the days immediately following my trip, even more than usual. I friended everyone I could possibly remember on Facebook and Twitter, and I looked through hundreds of pictures. I read peoples’ posts on their personal blogs and on the Standing on the Side of Love blog. I sent a couple of texts, and chatted with a few people on facebook. I sent thank you notes. I spent a lot of time reflecting in my journal and online. I wrote in my own blog shortly after returning from Phoenix,

Whenever I return from any conference or workshop or big, social-justice event I sometimes forget that everyone else in the world wasn’t doing the same thing at the same time. I will hear somebody say something to me or about an issue and I’ll find myself thinking, “what? how can you say that? what did we just spend the last 2 hours/weekend/4 days/week talking about??”

Times like this make me so grateful for the internet. Without the internet it would have been a lot harder for me to process what I had just done and all my emotions swirling around so quickly that I couldn’t name them, much less put them to paper. Reading what others had to say allowed me to more deeply articulate what and how I was feeling.

Lisa Kemper was one of the clergy that went to Phoenix, and we ended up chatting quite a bit. We met within the first 20 minutes of my arrival, and she definitely looked after me a little, and checked in a time or two.

When I returned I looked her up online and started following her blog. In her blog post titled, “I’m not in the pictures” she struggles with what it meant for us to be in Arizona, as people of faith, as mostly-white people, as people with amounts of privilege that those we were there for don’t have.

…as I watched the news coverage and all the links posted on Facebook, I wondered what it meant for so many white people to join in these protests. I wondered if we had done the right thing. I wondered if we were too prideful or if we had distracted from the issue.

That was it! that was what I had been trying to articulate!

She later goes on to say

And that’s when I realized it was precisely our privilege and visibility that we brought to Phoenix that day. We were a large group. That made us more visible. We all had yellow shirts. That made us noticeable. Most of us were citizens. That meant we wouldn’t get deported. And many of us were white…

…Our presence at the actions accomplished two important things: First of all, we helped swell the numbers of people in town that day–we covered the landscape with our bright yellow-shirt-clad bodies and we made people come up to us and ask, “who are you?” and “why are you here?”

And that is important. That matters. We mattered. It was not about us, but we DID matter, and we DID count, and it’s a good thing that we were there. It was the “who we were” that people seemed to be focusing on when the “why are you were” was the question that I wanted to answer.

Yes, we are people of faith, and yes, we came from all over the country, and yes, we were mostly white. But we weren’t there because of those things. We were there because we believe in our principles, and we believe in people and in democracy and in love. It was not about who any of us were as individuals, or who we were collectively, it was about what we, as people, did and it is who we WERE that made that possible. For every single person that came to stand on the side of love there was a group of similar-minded people back home, standing with them in spirit.

When I say, “this is not about me, you, Unitarian Universalism, SB 1070, or Arizona” that is what I am trying to say. It was not ABOUT us, but we mattered, we were effective, we made our voices heard. We made our voices heard not because WE matter but because every person matters.

Arizona definitely changed me. It gave me ideas and alternative views of ministry, it gave me an amazing network that would have taken years to build from here in Maine, it moved me further in my spiritual journey than I ever thought 3 days could, and it made me view activism in whole new interesting and frightening ways.

This wasn’t the activism I was used to. This wasn’t the, “get everything done as quickly as humanly possible” kind of activism I knew and loved. We took time to sing. Time to pray. Time to listen to others and ourselves. We took time to meditate.

On my last night in Phoenix we quickly helped organize and attended a vigil outside the tent city jail. It was getting to be evening, I had to be at the airport in just a couple of hours. I didn’t have to go to the vigil, and part of me didn’t even want to. I had mentally checked out.  I was done.

Standing outside I broke down crying, leaning up against the walls of the church. I was exhausted and things seemed disorganized and confusing and I didn’t know if I had a ride to the airport anymore. But nevertheless I got in one of the big vans we had rented, and we drove to tent city. It was like somebody had hit rewind to the day before. The protesters were the same, the chants were the same, we were in the same shirts. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand and chant and scream.

So I sat. I joined a group of people who were praying and meditating on the curb facing the police department. I put a Standing on the Side of Love sign in front of me. I crossed my legs. I closed my eyes. I prayed.

I prayed in earnest for probably the first time in 11 years. And then I sang. We sang “meditation on breathing” and we sang “gentle angry people” and then we were quiet again, with all the chaos surrounding us, we were quiet, with our hands outreached, folded, lifted, opened, to the universe and to each other and to ourselves.

This was not about us, but we did matter. We mattered because we are people who love other people and respect other people. We matter.

Blessed be.

July 26, 2011

We pray

I have been deeply honored and touched by the outpouring of support and love for the trans community over the last 24 hours. Here are the first 20 responses to my request for prayers for the trans community. The respondents range from ministers to seminary students to laity to folks who don’t even consider themselves religious.

Take a deep breath.

Think of a time you’ve felt alienated in your life from something you found really important.

Perhaps it was hard to think of a time, or you couldn’t really come up with one at all. Or maybe you couldn’t choose just one; being excluded or sidelined has been “the story of your life” for as long as you can remember.

Religious community, spirituality, worship either private or public, and belonging are all so, so important to so many people. To be told to leave, excluded either explicitly or implicitly, a religious community can put you in that space of doubt, that space of longing, and that space of deep and painful loneliness.  Not all people need or want religious community. But for those that do, and who don’t have it, it’s hard.

Let these words lift YOU up, whether you are part of the transgender community or not. And please continue to send in your thoughts.

I have posted these in the order they were received with one exception; I placed my minister’s prayer first.  Oh the joys of being my minister; they are manifold and strange.

Rev. Fred Small, Senior Minister, First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist

God’s love is infinite and all-embracing.  God’s love does not discriminate.  God’s love does not reject.  If you are trans, God’s love holds you tenderly—especially tenderly, because of the challenges you face in a society that is often ignorant and intolerant.  You are good.  You are whole.  You are of God, in God, with God, always.  Your soul shines with divine light.

Rev. Cynthia Landrum

Beloved child of the universe,
You are beautiful.
You are whole.
You are good.
You are sacred.
You are loved.
You are made in the image of Godde.

A Friend

Friend, know that whoever you are, wherever you are, you are one of God’s dearly beloved, and that there is nothing in the world that can separate you from God’s love.

Joanna Fontaine-Crawford

Our God, whom we call by many names, but who calls each of us “Beloved,”
I come in gratitude for the richness, the diversity, the great abundance of unique souls in this world. Thank you for the very complexity that distinguishes each one of us. May all people find those who will love and accept them, will value their distinctive beauty and spirits. May we each feel the presence of your transcending mystery, may we know that we are part of a process of life that is rooted in divine, emanating love, and may we feel the comfort of knowing that every one of us is cherished by God.

Toby

I pray that you feel loved tonight.
I pray that you find someone to joke with.
I pray that you find someone to love you for who you are, what you are and what you may become.
I pray that you find the strength to get up tomorrow.
I pray that you find the courage to speak clearly, even if you are trembling.
I pray that you find the humility to forgive others the unforgivable.
I pray that we’ll meet someday and that I might make you smile.
I pray that you’ll let me love you.
I’m trans, I pray, and I hope you do too. We need it.

Kim

Please know there are people in the world who love and support you just as you are – a human being who deserves kindness, love and respect just like every one else.

Jane Spickett

God loves us. We – all of us anywhere on the transgender spectrum – are manifestations of the wonder of creation. Anything less than joyful affirmation of who we are is not enough. So, dear ones, look in the mirror and smile; then call up your trans friends and let them know how grateful you are for them.

The church that does not celebrate you is not the church. Together, loving word by loving deed, we co-create God over and over and over again.

Anonymous

Spirit of creation, attend to us all. Heal our brokenness, comfort our bruised hearts, temper our tongues that we not hurt one another. God is love and love is all-powerful, greater than any hurt or hate or ignorance or shortcoming or even evil thing that we might do, to the earth, to each other, or to ourselves. The love of god is universal, available to us all, not just the ones we deem worthy. Please help me to remember that. Blessed be.

Anonymous

the best thing a person can do for the world is be themselves, honestly, openly- brave and beautiful. by letting your light shine out so that others can feel it gives others the courage to let their light shine too. we are all different, not one of us the same, but we all share a common bond: we want to be loved. the only place to start is with the self. love yourself first, share the beauty.

Ameselle

Whoever you are, that’s who you are.  It’s unfortunate that we still live in a time where people who are considered “different” aren’t accepted or welcome to pray/worship/live/love in their own way.  But that reality is all the more reason for you to stand up for yourself and be who you are.   You shouldn’t have to answer to bullies who think less of you because you were born the way you were.  Things will never change for the better if we let ignorance and fear rule our lives.  Defying bullies may be scary, lonely, painful; but not being yourself is just as scary, lonely, and painful.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never walk alone.

Kristy

I honestly can’t understand why people bother to spend their energy making trans people feel they aren’t accepted. It’s all based on fear, I know, but I so wish they would direct that energy elsewhere. Trans people have more than their share of struggle, so church people more than anyone else should reach out and make them feel welcome. Please know that there are churches and individuals with strong faith who want you to know that God loves you, not just if you’re Trans but because you’re Trans. God knows exactly who you are and loves you for exactly who you are.

Ashlayne

The true Christians I’ve met agree with me; although we come to different conclusions when it comes to theology and philosophy, whatever higher powers there may be will accept people from all walks of life, regardless of skin colour, hair colour, eye colour, mental abilities, physical abilities, emotional abilities, thoughts, beliefs, hopes, dreams, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else I may have missed.

In short, if you’re Christian, you’re allowed to pray*. God loves you. And anyone calling themselves Christian who tells you otherwise is a hypocrite.

*I would like to comment that anybody, regardless of their religion or lack thereof is allowed to pray.

Rev. Naomi King

God of Justice and God of Wonder, God of Mystery and God of Holy Delight, here I am, just as I am. Creator and ever-changing abiding Love, sit here with me in my anger and my fear, in my yearning and in my emptiness, in my grief and in my becoming. God, how is it that people stand behind paper cutouts of You and shake their fists and scream their own fear and confusion to try and make me what and who I am not, to take away what you’ve given me that cannot to be taken away: this me that is. Am I not precious also in your sight? In your heart? In your hands? I have wandered through the nights and through the days seeking a place to grow, to flower, to love and be loved among people, to live and to create a life of love, of justice, of wonder, of healing laughter, of all kinds of goodness. I wander and I come to this place, God, my Beloved, in the garden of troubles and in the city of sorrow and in the fields of loneliness. Beloved, still here you are with me. Beloved, give me refuge when the world expects me to be what I am not, when masks are presented and people insist I stop being difficult and just go along with what makes them comfortable and destroys my heart. Beloved, let me just lean my head a while on your knee, hear your song in my spirit, and know that I am with you and you are with me, from the beginning and always, worthy of your love and loved and called to this place and this time to share all I have to give. Alleluia. Amen.

Rev. Chip Roush

Loving God who is beyond all categories, both Mother and Father, and still more yet, Bless us who live beyond categories on earth. Grant us strength and compassion; show us mercy. Teach us to love ourselves and others as you love us. Challenge us when we need it; console us when we want it. Wrap us in your love which is masculine and feminine and full and rich beyond all categories. Bless us and all beings. Amen.

Nancy Palmer

Spirit of Life, we cry out in solidarity with our family, known and unknown to us, walking this earth in fear and loneliness and doubt. Let our love be known to them. Let our open hearts shine for them. Give us the strength and courage to shine brighter and more visibly than those who spew hate.  Let us strew love before them.

The road of this life can be so hard. I don’t understand why some spirits find it so necessary to manifest their own fear and pain by hurting others, but I pray that those spirits open to understanding, compassion, healing, and at last peace. Let their hands, hearts, and voices turn from cruelty to acceptance.

Meanwhile, I pray especially for grace and strength for the wounded and lost. Where there is hurting, may there be help. Where there is injury, may there be health. Where there is confusion and loss, may there be peace and the gift of knowing that if any of us is a child of G_d, then we all must be, and that we all are equally loved, equally cherished, just exactly as we are.

Lydia

When I was a Christian one of my favourite songs was “God Loves Everyone” by Ron Sexsmith.

It still is. If there is a god I have no doubt that s/he loves all of us.

Liz RB

If you stopped by this blog looking for answers about whether it is possible to be spiritual/religious/whole if you are transgendered, I want to assure you that it is.  I don’t really have the right words myself, but I’d like to borrow from Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata”

You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.

Therefore … whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Anonymous

I pray that all people who feel alienated by religion find a spiritual home full of love and acceptance. My God or higher power or whatever you’d like to call it does not hate trans people. I don’t believe hate has a place in spirituality. I pray you find comfort, acceptance, and love.

Ellen Carvill-Ziemer

A reading from Scripture: “Then Adonai formed a human out of hummus and breathed into hir nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living being…but for the human no suitable complementary partner was found. Then the Adonai caused the human to fall asleep and Ze took one of hir sides and filled in the flesh in it’s place. Then the Adonai formed a woman from the half Ze had taken from the man.” Genesis 2:7, 20b-21

In the beginning, God made a human from hummus, a human made in Hir own image. The Rabbis tell us this human had no gender—or all genders—just like God. Then God pulled the human apart, from the side, top to bottom, and there were two, male and female as Ze made them. The Scripture goes on to tell us this is why a man leaves his family and cleaves to his wife—that they, together, make a whole. But, not all of us pull apart the same way. Some of us have a piece or two that reminds of the whole we were before. We have a brain or a body or a nagging sense of something lost. In the moments between sleep and waking we remember the wholeness and the dream trails our days and we long to embody that wholeness in our own flesh.

So we pray.

God, God the Avenging Amazon, God the Two-Spirit Shaman walking between worlds.

God—remind us of our wholeness.
Remind us of the gift we are to the world because we remember our wholeness.
Remind us of the days when we were priests and shamans because people knew we were a gift.
Remind us that we are each made in Your image
There are those who have forgotten. Help us to forgive their ignorance.

Be with us in our confusion, our grief, and our despair.
Lead us in the Way you have prepared for our feet
Grow in us the faith that we are who You have made us
Give us hope, give us courage, give us strength, give us love.

So may it be.

Notes:
This is an accurate translation of the Hebrew from my study of contemporary textual criticism and Rabbinical literature. God does not have a gender in the Hebrew or Christian scriptures and this original human (the word play human/hummus is similar to the word play in Hebrew between Adam and the Hebrew word for ground). But, Hebrew does not have a gender neutral pronoun for God or for Adam. Sound familiar?
Adonai is the Hebrew that is translated into English Lord God.
If you’re stuck in a religious home that cannot study this text in a way that listens for the original meaning of the words, there are religious homes for you—Anglican, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Reformed Judaism, Unitarian Universalism—there are many of us who strive not to impose modern prejudices on the text nor absorb ancient prejudices into ours, instead looking for the God of liberation.

Anonymous

Find peace – you may always pray.  It is your right, regardless of how you see yourself.

PLEASE feel free to share these prayers, individually or as a whole.  I’d appreciate if you somehow referenced this blog as where they were found but the only rule is that you credit the writer if you choose to use them in any capacity.

July 25, 2011

“Are transgender people allowed to pray?”

God doesn’t hate you.

One of my favorite things about blog stats is that I can see the words that people search to land on my blog. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes just baffling, and sometimes it really makes me wish that the stats weren’t anonymous because I just want to reach out into the ether of the internet and pluck somebody up from wherever they are in life that causes them to search something like;

“Help I’m trans does god hate me?”
or
“Transgender suicide help”
or
“church hates me transgender”
or
“Does god hate trans”
or
“Are transgender people allowed to pray?”

Are transgender people allowed to pray.

I can’t help but be saddened, disheartened, and mad at religious communities that have rejected somebody to the point where they are questioning whether or not they are even allowed to pray any longer. A place where they have either been told or intuited that their religious community hates them. Where they have been told that God hates them.

But I’m also happy that, at least, they found my blog rather than, or at least in addition to, any of the hate filled and hate driven stuff on the internet.

Finding love and support anonymously from one person is one thing. Finding love and support from dozens is another.

I’m asking every person who stops by this blog to write a prayer, a kind thought, a message of love and support and hope. You can do that below.

July 20, 2011

Let me defend the Evangelical Christians for a moment…

My first sermon was not preached in a UU church. It was not carefully constructed with thoughts to both theology and current events on a Google Doc with input from friends. It did not have multiple drafts, quotes from folks, hymns that were thematically appropriate, or readings that both correlated with and enhanced the sermon.

My first sermon was given when I was 12, and I wrote it in purple glittery gel pen in my 7th grade pre-Algebra notebook. The topic was “why bullying is bad” and I basically quoted a bunch of Bible verses where people are nice to the folks who are different and then told people they were going to hell if they bullied people. It was not a good sermon. Yes, I still have a copy and, yes, it makes me cringe and want to crawl under a table and, no, I’m not going to post it.

I gave the sermon in front of about 200 twelve to sixteen year olds at a Wednesday night service in the Children’s Chapel. There was nothing special about the service – that was a fairly typical turnout for the youth group and we always had two sermons; one by our youth minister and one by somebody else, be it one of us, somebody brought in from a special group, a “special guest” such as a missionary or some Christian youth or young adult who had a particularly inspiring story about how God and/or Jesus had saved their life in some kind of real or metaphorical sense.

My rant-against-bullying-disguised-as-a-sermon was much less exciting than the “girl who was killed at the Columbine massacre because she said she believed in God” speaker (even though I later found out that that was totally not true). But it was my first sermon. My first time officially speaking out to a large group of people about religion and how religion could and, moreover, SHOULD influence our lives and I was hooked.

A few short months later I was kicked out of that church because I had come out at school as gay and the pastor had found out.

It was never that I thought that God hated gay people, or that I thought that there was no religion that would accept queer folks. I was from Los Angeles and I wasn’t blind – I knew what a rainbow flag outside a church meant. But I just didn’t want any church, I wanted THAT church. That church with my friends, my grown ups, my church grandparents, and the little kids that I SO loved working with during Sunday School and Children’s Church.

My energies turned elsewhere. I got really involved in activism, learned how to run meetings, speak at political protests, canvass and phone bank and petition and lobby and form committees and run committees and be on committees and combine committees and dissolve committees and occasionally even create meaningful change with committees.

I was angry at that church for years and I let myself get caught up in the hatred of all religion that so many of my peers (rightfully, to tell the truth) harbored in their hearts. I should be angry, I was told, and organized religion was the main thing screwing up our world. And it was true that many, many of the things I fought against were caused by the religious right in the first place.

But that church taught me so much. That church was my first experience with the concept of “chosen” family and for all of the hell and damnation talk that gets publicized what I remember most is a lot of hugs, and helping little kids make flower petal hats and singing songs about a God that loved us all the time. “God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.”

I remember hugging people, and feeling so grown up when adults said to me, “Peace be with you” and I knew to respond, “and also with you.” feeling like I was really participating when I knew how to open the hymnal, find the hymn number, and follow along. I remember endless games of tic-tac-toe with my little brother on the back of the offering envelopes and my ex-step-father (the person who brought me to church for years after he and my mother split because he knew I wanted to go) pretending not to notice.

I remember how pleased the pastor was when I came to him and was saved and all my 11 year old sins were washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ my one True Lord and Savior and the enormous sense of relief and happiness I felt because I was now “in.” I don’t remember feeling better about myself, or that anything big had changed, but I remember how happy other people were when they heard.

Most of all I remember the pastors of that church, both official and unofficial. I remember looking up to them and respecting their faith and how certain they were in God and hoping and praying that someday I’d be that positive that there was a God there for me. I looked up to them because, for the first time, I had adults to look up to and respect. Who were living their lives well and righteously.

I don’t dislike them for it. I did for a long time; I accused them in my heart and to my friends of lying to me and of ruining the lives of so many. But now I come around to it and I can’t find it in my heart to dislike them. The people who intentionally ruin the lives of others are the ones I dislike; but these folks didn’t do that. They did not set out to ruin my life, or even to make it any harder. They wanted me to be so in love with God that I lived my life for Him that I may be greeted at the gates to Heaven with the words of my Father, welcoming me to eternal life, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

And in their eyes I had chosen something that wasn’t going to lead me anywhere near there. I had chosen a life of sin and wickedness. The devil had a pull on me but clearly I was so young that prayer and study and just some good old fashioned growing up would win me back.

I was right to leave. Even if I don’t dislike the people of that church I know that they are misguided in how they approach a multitude of issues, including LGBTQ folks and people with mental illness, promoting prayer over acceptance, prayer over medication, and prayer over proper psychiatric care. I know that I would never have found acceptance there and I know that I would never have been encouraged to leadership without a lot of deception and unhappiness.

But my finding UUism is not my salvation from Evangelical Protestant Christianity. It’s simply the resolution of my, mostly unknown, want for a faith community and the right circumstances that brought the two together.

In the end I think it had to be queer issues that brought me back to faith; with anything less I would have been skeptical to their true motivations no matter how many rainbow flags streamed from the rafters. In the end I think it had to be a queer minister who said, “welcome. You are wanted here.” in order for me to believe it.

And in the end I think those experiences in middle school with an unaccepting church and my years of working through that to be happy again with religion were necessary for me to see a future for myself as a person of faith. I already knew how much I loved and valued religious community.

Now I know how much a religious community can love and value me for all of who I am. UUism has the necessary systems in place for change and growth and movement and while it may never be as quick as I may like it’s possible and, moreover, it’s expected and wanted. And with this religious community where we, as we say in so many of our faith communities, “strive to live Dr. King’s dream of unconditional love,” we have the chance to say, “you are loved, and you are welcomed, and you are wanted, and you are not less than.”

I do not think that every person in the world needs UUism as so many Christians are told that all of humanity needs to accept Jesus. I do think that every person in the world needs love and if that love happens to come to you in the form of Jesus well, then, awesome. If that love comes to you from your biological family that works. We all, it is hoped, derive love from a multitude of places. One of the places I get love is from my faith community.

I went to a “Unitarian Universalist Revival” a number of weeks back and ended up sitting next to my minister (rather, he sat next to me). We sang and we laughed and I was just as awkward as ever and we heard sermons that inspired and touched us and at one point we were told to turn to those around us and say, “I love you beyond belief.”

I’d just like to say right now that it was weird.

I found myself thinking, on the way home, what exactly “love beyond belief” was. Beyond who’s belief, exactly? “My own” was my eventual answer. The people around me loved me more than I was willing to believe. Just as I love those around me more than, I am sure, they are willing to believe. And just as many millions around the world are told that God loves them more than they can ever believe.

The point here is that love is the glue that holds us all together, and love is our best expression of our faith.

I don’t think that there should ever be qu’ran burnings, legislation based on religious ideals, or 12 year olds getting kicked out of church because of who they kiss in the corner at the 7th grade Valentine’s dance. I don’t think that those are good expressions of love; I don’t think many of the extreme actions of Church’s are actions grounded in love at all. I do think that we have to strive to look at what the perception of theology that actions are based out of is. I think we have to work from there, in love, to change things. Or to show that there is another side that doesn’t feel the same.

Many, many actions are inexcusable. My point here is, essentially, twofold. One is that nobody does something for no reason. Two is that if all actions have an equal and opposite reaction let us make our reaction one of love and expansion and hope not of fear and hate based retaliation. It is the only way we will grow.

And that growth is why my second sermon WAS preached at a Unitarian Universalist church.

July 15, 2011

Innate vs. Learned Understanding

Sometimes I am in “Official LGBTQ Educator” mode; I’m ready to change the world with knowledge and make everything better for everyone and absolutely nothing less will do.

And sometimes, most of the time really, I’m just not.

Usually I’m happy to say a few words on what I mean when I say I “prefer the pronouns he/him/his” or answer some questions on LGBTQ youth inclusion or expand a little on my work with various queer organizations. I will always always always answer, “what does LGBTQ” mean, but there are times when I don’t want to go beyond that.

And often those “times” are when I just want understanding. When I have been hurt, by my community or by a stranger or by somebody close to me, I don’t want to have to educate FIRST in order to receive sympathy and understanding.

I don’t want to explain why it bugs me that people don’t “get” my pronouns even though,

“yes, I know I look female” and,

“yes, I acknowledge that most people don’t have much in the way of trans education” and…

“ok, nevermind, you’re right, I shouldn’t be upset.”

Just because something is understandable doesn’t meant that I have to like it.

It becomes harder to find those folks who you don’t have to educate, first, before you can just be upset as your identity becomes more specific.

When I’m just looking for some understanding about something broadly related to queer issues? I really don’t have to go further than 2/3 of my Facebook Friends List, most of the contacts in my cell phone, or pretty much any of my friends I see on a frequent basis.

As I narrow my identity I have to scroll further in my contacts list, specifically search people out on Facebook. When we get down to the identity of “Genderqueer/Trans-masculine person interested in Religious Leadership” my options for who to contact are pretty small.

My denomination, Unitarian Universalism, pretty much sets the bar for LGBTQ inclusion in all facets of denominational life, from laity up through ordained ministry. And we actually do set it pretty high. This is not one of those “we set the bar but that’s not saying much” situations. But just because we are, officially, welcoming, open and affirming does not mean that all of our congregations are “there” yet, by any means.

And sometimes when that messy, hard, and infuriatingly slow growth work is happening, when those feelings are inevitably hurt by people who, likely, had the best intentions? Those are the times when I have to dig through my Facebook friends list, find the friend who I know will “get” what I need to complain about better than most allies can.

Living an oppression is different from observing an oppression. Even when you observe that something is “bad” it’s way different when that bad thing is not observed but acted on you.

I want to throw it out there that I love my minister. I came into the church and, fairly quickly, started asking things of him, both personally (oh, hey, talk to me about ministry kthx!) and of the congregation (um… here’s a list of ways in which that was SO NOT OK). He’s been phenomenal when what I have thrown at him, offering up solutions and understanding. But I’ll admit that after some of the stuff at the church around trans issues I called one of my queer minister friends for a kind ear before I emailed my minister about what was going on and how we could change it.

I called somebody queer because they have that innate understanding. I knew that she’d be able to “get” what, exactly, had made me upset even before I could fully articulate it. And she would be able to drag out more of the “why” than people who had not lived through similar things would be able to.

My queer and trans religious friends are the ones who keep me going; who encourage and uplift me, and who I share more of that bond with than I may with a non-queer minister I happen to friend on Facebook. We are a community, we are a family. It’s not exclusive, it’s just necessary. We want to see each other succeed because to see another succeed is to see part of ourselves succeed. Seeing a trans-identified person in the pulpit is a little beacon for me, letting me know that the path may not be paved, but that there is, in fact, a path.

It’s one of the reasons the chaplain at GA was so helpful to me. It’s one of the reasons I’m so glad our intern minister is who she is. It’s one of the reasons I came to, and stayed, with UUism even after my last church did so many awful things. It’s one of the reasons I believe in this faith.

It’s not the only reason. Every one of my queer minister friends is just a great person, at least from what I have seen and what I know. Being queer does not automatically mean you’re one of my new favorite people. But it does give me the idea that you, likely, have experienced a lot of the same stuff I have. It gives us a bond that goes beyond the individual. And it’s important.

It’s not the only reason, but it is a reason. And it’s a pretty important one to me.

July 8, 2011

Always and forever, you!

July 8th, 2011

Dear Me,

You’re reading this because you are procrastinating. You are procrastinating on something that you’ve decided is a huge, gigantic deal and if you don’t do it immediately the world will end and you are an idiot for fooling around online instead of Just Doing It.

I’m here to remind you to breathe. I’m here to remind you that the last weeks or months or years or lifetime of work will not be undone if you do not do whatever this awful thing is right away. You may get a lower grade, or lose a chance at something fun or cool or neat, but ultimately it’s not a huge deal. Ultimately you will be fine. You’ve been fine every other time, and you’ll be fine this time.

I’m here to remind you to cut yourself some slack; which, unless you’ve changed a whole lot in the past however long since you wrote this, you really suck at. You’re a good person. Sometimes you make mistakes, because you are human, but you are a good person. You are dynamic and engaging and loving and you do a lot of things well, even if you can’t think of a single one right now.

I’m here to remind you that you are loved. There are tons of people that you can call, right now, and simply say “talk to me.” Even if you haven’t talked to them in ages. Just pick up the phone and connect with somebody. You always feel better when you do.

I’m here to remind you to give yourself some space. You need space. It’s essential to your health and well being. Go outside and take a quick walk, dip your feet in the ocean if you can, just take some deep breaths if you can’t. Listen for nature, even if you are living in some big city.

I’m here to remind you that you will fail sometimes. This may end up being College Freshman Calculus, your 7th grade integrated project portfolio, or your months of attempting to blog about current news on Emergency Contraception accessibility and convenience in New York. You may fail. It’s OK. You will live.

I’m here to remind you that you HAVE done some impressive stuff before. You’ve written long papers even when you thought that it was impossible, you’ve made really scary phone calls, you’ve traveled the country for business and pleasure, alone and with other people. You’ve presented workshops to packed auditoriums, and spoken in front of hundreds of people. So, whatever it is, you CAN do it.

And lastly I’m here to remind you that it’s OK to be scared. And it’s definitely OK to not know. And it’s so very, definitely OK to cry.

Also you should never forget the healing power of Hershey’s Kisses, Dr. Pepper and popcorn.

Always and forever,

You

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