Year B — Lent 4: SNAAAAKES

Schnorr-Bibel, Eherne Schlange - The Bronze Snake / S.v.Carolsfeld / 1860 - Bible Schnorr, Serpent d'airain

Preached at St. Paul Lutheran Church, based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.

OK, I’m sorry, I just have to say this… I know this is Lent, a super serious time of self reflection and solemn introspection, buuuutt I think the first reading from today is hilarious. It’s got all the markers of great comedy: complaining, snakes, a harsh realization that we need to do something about all these snakes. And again, I get it, it should not be funny. Snakes are scary! People dying from snake bites is no laughing matter. But at this point in Israel’s story, wandering out in the desert, it’s hard not to read this text as a screwball comedy or the road trip from hell. You’ve got the Israelites in the back seat, complaining both that they don’t have food and that they don’t like the food that they do have. Which is it, guys?! Then you have God, so exasperated that he sends a buncha snakes just to mess with the Israelites. And you’ve got Moses over here, just trying to keep the car on the road, pleading with the other passengers to just get along already. I’ve been on road trips like that, maybe with slightly fewer snakes, but still… I get it. Continue reading


Year B — The Feast of the Transfiguration


What was the moment that took your breath away? That left you speechless? Maybe it was holding your child just after their birth; or the first time seeing a favorite piece of art in person; or perhaps when a friend trusted you enough to make a deep, personal disclosure. For me, it was lying flat on my back on a campground picnic table in middle of the trans-pecos desert, looking up and seeing the Milky Way for the first time. A true city kid, I had no idea there could be so many stars, and in the enveloping silence only possible in west Texas, I felt the awe of being both totally connected and totally insignificant.

These overwhelming moments can be joyful, but usually come with a subtle recognition that nothing will be the same. In the midst of overwhelming beauty, something has changed, and there’s no going back. For me, looking up at the desert sky, I knew that I would have to take seriously God’s call on my life, that I could no longer coast through life, that there was something else out there for me, if I just had the courage to reach out for it.

I wonder if that’s how the disciples felt upon seeing Jesus transfigured, if they knew on a gut level that their lives were now different than they had been minutes earlier? We know they were dumbstruck; Mark tells us as much. If there was ever a scene of sensory overload in the Gospel, this is it. The details come fast and furious: dazzling white clothes, two of Israel’s most revered figures, a cloud overtaking them, the literal voice of God. How could they have adequately put this experience into words? When Jesus tells them not to speak of this until after his resurrection, I imagine the disciples saying “yeah, no problem, how could we even begin to speak of this?” Continue reading

A Homily for National Coming Out Day


It is good to be here with you all. It is good to be able to gather among people like y’all and bear witness to my most authentic self. I hope you feel the same, in whatever led you to this place. Because to be sure, there is power in gathering, power in being able to assemble together. And I don’t mean just a warm, vaguely inspirational feeling that comes from being surrounded by like-minded people, though that is heartening in its own way. No, what I’m talking about is power both to resist the world as it is and to set forth an alternative vision of the world as it ought to be. In our communion in places like this, we see a micro-vision of how the world could be, witness to the broader culture that such a world is possible, and harness collective power to make it happen. But this power is only available to us when all people are able to live openly as who they really are.

Because the oppressive structures of this world will always try to suppress the power that we have, to keep us isolated and ashamed of our very being….in short, to keep that closet door shut tight. Make no mistake, this is violence and completely contrary to the full, abundant life God envisions for us. And perhaps most heartbreaking of all, at least for me, is that the voice that tells us to lock away whole parts of our humanity has very often come from the church. The church, which should be the witness to the liberating message of the gospel, which calls us to authenticity and freedom, too often operates as an arm of the very sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, capitalist culture it should resist. The church can and should repent of these perversions of the gospel. We lament the ways the church has failed so many of us.

But there is another movement brewing in Christ’s church. It’s a stream that has been there since the beginning, despite attempts to repress it. After all, the gospel we proclaim is of a God who dissolves every binary humanity has created: sinner/saint, death/life, and in the person of Jesus human/divine. These no longer have dominion over us.

In my own life, hearing this message anew as a young adult in my 20s was revelatory. I had always felt a low-grade shame about how I did not fit into conventional gender roles or the binary of either/or attraction. There was a stark outline of How These Things Went, and I was failing at it. I felt alone and as if there was something wrong in my fundamental essence. It was in hearing the witness of queer Christians and theologians that I began to experience the gospel again and as if for the first time. In experiencing the truly radical good news of the gospel that honors all parts of our humanity, I was able to become the person I always was, and for the first time I experienced theology not only intellectually or cognitively, but in my nerve endings.

The power of such a realization, this coming out, has even been called a sacrament. Not just sacred, but a sacrament. The queer theologian and pastor Chris Glaser says this about the process of coming out as a sacrament: “At their best and deepest level, sacraments renew life, relationships, community, and communion with God. At its best and deepest level, coming out means a new life, fresh and refreshed relationships, access to a new community, and increased intimacy with God.”

So there is indeed power in gatherings such as these, in knowing oneself and in being known more completely, in proclaiming that what God has created God has called good.

It’s also a power not to be held tightly or kept insular. Part of the reason we gather in a place like this, under these circumstances, is so that we can use this power for the liberation of all…liberation for those unable to come out for whatever reason, liberation for those who bear the brunt of society’s violence and hatred, liberation for the crucified ones of this time and place…

This work of liberation, which is done in freedom and a spirit of joyful disruption, this work is done knowing that God has already set us free from death; this liberation is true gift to all. When Christ says that he came that they may have life and have it abundantly…this is what he meant. Not just another individualized, comfortable, materialistic life, but a life of solidarity, in a collective of people all empowered to live their most authentic lives, and to join with one another in the struggle for liberation. Coming out and gathering is a good first step. Let us take the next steps together, onward toward the liberation of all.

Year A — 18th Sunday After Pentecost


Based on Isaiah 5:1-7 & Matthew 21:33-46

Planters know how to play the long game. Farmers, gardeners, winemakers…these folks think in seasons and years, not hours and days. The benefit of action taken now perhaps won’t be realized for a number of growing cycles. I have a dear friend who recently moved onto a plot of land in a very rural area, and she and her partner are in the midst of preparing the land for planting and harvest. This includes preparation to make the land itself liveable (like patching holes in the roof of the trailer on the property, or shooing away the family of racoons that lives underneath it), but also more intensive preparation of the soil. Before my friends came to live on it, the plot was basically an automobile junkyard, with dozens of cars parked on it for about a decade. Renewing and repairing that land will take many cycles of soil remediation, and it will be a long while before anything edible or beautiful will grow on it. Humanity’s impact on that land will need to be mitigated for years to come. The long game. Continue reading

Year A — Epiphany 4

My first ever sermon! Preached Jan. 29, 2017, at Unity Lutheran Church of Berwyn. Based primarily on the Epistle, but addresses the Gospel text a bit as well. Anyhoozles, here it is:

I have had more than a few moments in my life where I have been, by anyone’s standard, a complete failure. Like, just totally missed the mark. Some of these moments are funny now, like the lopsided birdhouse I made in high school shop class, a structure so rickety that no self-respecting robin or blue jay would ever choose to live in it. Or there was the time a friend and I attempted to make a pie from scratch, a process that went so spectacularly off the rails at literally every step that we refer to it now in solemn voices only as “the great cantaloupe debacle of 2014.” And don’t even get me started on my ill-fated summer spent working on my grandparents’ farm…the less said about that the better.

Incidents like these are fairly low stakes, so we can laugh about them now, but I also have my fair share of higher level failures: overdraft fees and past due notices, flunking out of college, relationships not treated with the care they deserved. Failures like these sting a bit more, even now. These experiences formed how I view and operate in the world, for better or for worse.

Moreover, there have also been times when I’ve felt isolated by society’s standards…been made to feel like a failure…based on my economic standing, my ability to access healthcare, even how I’ve performed (or not performed) within society’s definition of masculinity. Failing to live up to these external standards can bring a feeling of deep shame, a gnawing sense that there’s something wrong not only with what I’ve done but with who I am. Continue reading

Moral Monday — November 2, 2015

Moral Monday

We started in a church. At 9:30 in the morning, leadership teams assembled for Moral Monday Illinois’ mass mobilization action. There was excitement and nervous energy overflowing from rooms packed with marshalls, energy-team members, and organizers. And in the back, in a small chapel, those of us who volunteered for civil disobedience gathered. An hour later, around a thousand people would assemble at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago to demand a just and compassionate tax system and state budget.  After some practical preparations and prophetic sending remarks, we dispersed to our locations. Some rallied at the Thompson Center, others of us went in secret to action’s endpoint — The Chicago Board of Trade Building — and waited for the march to come to us.

Why would people do this? What is it about something as (seemingly) dry and wonky as a state budget that could inspire a thousand people to assemble and sixty people to risk arrest? Continue reading

ELCA Fund For Leaders Essay

The following was submitted as part of the application for the ELCA’s Fund For Leaders scholarship. The prompt was one of those generic “what does ‘leadership’ mean to you?”-type questions. (Incidentally, I just got word that I received a full-tuition scholarship from this fund, so.)

Within the context of Christianity, “leadership” should be an entirely horizontal concept. A leader in the church is not one who exerts dominion over others, or who perpetuates the power dynamics of the broader culture, but rather one who uplifts those whom they are called to serve, in order that those people might serve in the world. A leader is not the person at the top of an org chart, but one who sees herself as among, not above, those whom she leads. The church has not always fostered this form of leadership, and individuals have likewise failed to uphold it. As a result, the church as an institution is suffering a crisis of confidence that springs from promising fulfillment through vertical leadership, and being unable to deliver it. Over the last 50 years, trust in the institution has been shaken, and the church is on its heels, unsure how to react.

But make no mistake, this is good thing; exciting, even. Once the oppressive model of leadership dies, a different model can rise.

This renewed expression of leadership is not new; Luther’s priesthood of all believers and Paul’s image of the Body of Christ both call the church to renounce vertical organization and embrace the radical equality of community wherein all members are affirmed in their gifts and called to use them for the betterment of all those within and outside that community. A leader in such a context is someone specially trained to identify these gifts in others, matching them with the needs of the church and the world. Whose vocation it is to think seriously, theologically, and at length about issues of justice and equality, and then to see how the church can address those issues. Their role here is basically highly trained triage: connecter of the dots; seer of the big picture; servant of the servants.

From my own experience, this definition is refreshing, liberating, and emboldening. Were I held to the broader culture’s understanding of vertical leadership, there is just no way I could live up to it. If by “leader” we mean someone akin to a corporate officer or executive, I am not qualified in any way to be a leader. If, however, we define “leader” as one walking alongside and among a group of people trying their best to live out the gospel, then I believe I can be (and indeed have been) a leader.

The primary experience that induced this sense of leadership in me has been failure. To be sure, I tried with the best of them to prove myself through academic and professional achievement. It was through repeated and spectacular failure that I came to see hierarchy-for-hierarchy’s-sake as the empty promise it is. The achievement-based rat race fosters looking to self for affirmation and fulfillment, and failing in that regard was the best education in what leadership could look like. It disabused me of my notions of climbing any kind of organizational ladder, and reinstilled in me my dependence on God as source and ground of liberation and justification. I certainly wasn’t getting there on my own, and once I gave up the idea of self-justification as prerequisite for leadership(!), I became aware of another way.

The challenges facing the church are very real, not going away, and at this point only half-known. The vertically oriented leadership which gave rise to these issues will not cure them; for that, a different voice must speak up, emboldened by the spirit. I am here to raise my voice, and to actively create the space where those heretofore unheard may also give voice.