Friday, May 31, 2019

Memories of Grandma


A few months ago a package arrived in the mail for our family. In it was a small Easter gift from grandma: four delicately crocheted and impressively starched cross bookmarks and a card with an Easter message. This reminder of resurrection and new life is a blessing to me as I hold the work of her hands in mine and remember all the things that her hands have made over the years. Beautiful and practical items that were her way of reaching across the miles - even around the world - at times when her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren have been distant. Mittens and pajamas, tiny Barbie dresses and snowflake ornaments, cozy afghans and warm sweaters. Works of love.

Beautiful and practical seem to me words that aptly describe my grandmother. Beautiful in her sweet smile and sparkling eyes - that sometimes seemed to hold a little mischief. But also the beauty of deep love for family and community. While we are many - the children, inlaws, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Helen Reimer - I have never felt forgotten or unloved. Grandma wanted us all to be included and cherished. And practical. Strong. How could she not be? To not only raised five daughters and care for many grandchildren over her life but also to financially support her family by being a part of the workforce. To physically nurture their bodies by growing a garden and making preserves and pickles, baking and noodle making, sewing and knitting. Practical, beautiful, loving provision and care.

While I’ve been distant in recent years, my childhood was full of hours spent in grandma’s house, in blanket forts in the backyard and eating creamsicles on the front steps, playing with the same games and stacking toys that were still in the cabinet in her Bethany apartment for my own and other children to play with. I will still think of grandma every time I ride the bus with my children and let them ring the bell the way grandma showed me how to do on the way to Safeway. I will remember her in homemade white buns with jam. When I knit mittens with stitches I first learned under her patient guidance. And when I open my bible to the place where it is marked with the cross that she made.

Proverbs 31 asks,
“A woman of valour, who can find?”
“...She is clothed with strength and dignity
and can laugh at days to come.
Her children arise and call her blessed…
“‘Many women have done noble things but you surpass them all.’”

May grandma’s laughter be met by her smiling Creator,
who is delighted to welcome her with loving arms.
May we children who have been blessed by her surpassing love
be people of valour, beauty and love,
reflecting the love that she has shown to us.



Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Bathroom Sign Blessing

"We welcome a diversity of gender identity and expression. Please use the restroom that best fits you." 

These are the words posted under our gendered bathroom signs. (The ones with a person wearing a dress and a person wearing pants - hello, gender normativity!) We hope that this along with the addition of clearly labeled all-gender restroom signs our congregation is clearly communicating our welcome and blessing of people of all genders. Before they were posted, these signs sat on our altar - the first and only time a toilet will hold that sacred place - and they received this blessing in worship:

God who is all gender and no gender,
God who became incarnate in a body, who is no-body
God who created our bodies and identities
    and is present in each of our bodies,
    expressed through our identities,
Bless the work of the Gender Hospitality Ministry Team,
As, on behalf of our congregation
    they seek to make explicit our welcome
    of your beloved queer and trans bodies into our worship and spaces.
May we truly proclaim, holy and what you have called holy.
May we proclaim welcome what you proclaim welcome.
May we, like Peter, see clearly the vision
    that allows us to lean deep
    into our identity as a body of radical hospitality
    without partiality.
May these signs - markers for our doors and windows -
    also mark us.
May they mark us and our doors as open.
Open to your Spirit and open to all who enter,
That your welcome may be our welcome.
And that even when we harbor fear and uncertainty
    we may use these as an opportunity for understanding
    - of ourselves and of our neighbor.
We pray in the name of Jesus,
    whose Spirit is with us and welcoming us still.
Amen.

Making Mistakes

I make a lot of mistakes. Because of the nature of my work, I often make them publicly. I get the hymns wrong, completely forget that I'm supposed to be on prayers on a particular Sunday, mix up the order of service. I feel like it's almost my calling card at this point. And thanks be to God, my congregation is so gracious with me when I mess up. I count on them to call me out so that I can make up for and repair the mistakes.

This week in worship, my really dumb mistake was bringing a story Juneteenth to a children's time in May (if this is the first you've heard of this holiday read more here). Of course, Jonathan stood up and took credit for the mistake; it was his suggestion that because Sunday was the nineteenth, I should read a Juneteenth book. But duh! I knew it was May, I just didn't make that connection. So I was embarrassed. And y'all were gracious as usual. And I read the book Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper anyway.

The other mistake that I made with this book, when I talked about enslaved people, was the softening the language I used to describe enslavement. I can't remember exactly what I said but it was something along the lines of, "Black people weren't treated fairly and weren't treated kindly."  I did not address the cruelty, violence and degradation of being enslaved.  I was called our after reading this book. Called in, actually. A term I've come across recently, which I like. I was called in to conversation that challenged me not to pretty-up slavery - or the contemporary experiences of blackness - because I think my white audience can't handle it. Even if they are children.

Even though I was the one who, after reading Jennifer Harvey wrote about having to break our (white) children's hearts so that they can experience a deeper empathy that prepares them to be anti-racist, I was trying to make the language nice and palatable for my young audience - and the rest of the the congregation as well. I floundered at the moment for how to talk about what slavery was and didn't do a great job. I also didn't to justice to the ongoing and persistent treatment of Black people intentionally and systemically because of white supremacy.

"Niceness is not courageous." Robin Diangelo says in this video about the problem with white folks thinking that being nice is the antidote to racism. Oof. Gut punch. So I pick myself up and try to do better. Be better. Have better conversations that do less harm. If you'd like to continue the conversation about Juneteenth in anticipation of its arrival next month, there are a few more books for kids you can look at in addition to the one I read. Another that I've read an liked myself is All Different Now by Angela Johnson. And you can also check out this list of Juneteenth books for young readers.

Tangentially Related Recommendation:
The television series Altanta created by Daniel Glover and the episode Juneteenth in particular, which was one of my favorites.

Follow up on Last Week:
More books for pre-k and elementary school aged kids about Ramadan and Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan, can be found here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Prayer and Fasting

This weekend I overheard a conversation between middle schoolers about a team mate who is Muslim. "I feel so bad for him." one said "It must be so hard." This made me wonder both how much they know about the practice of fasting and how much we Christian Mennos know and have in common with our Muslim neighbors.

Fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with faith, charity, prayer and pilgrimage. While there are exceptions, most Muslims fast from all food and drink from sunup to sundown, getting up before the sun rises to eat and hydrate and breaking fast - called iftar - after the sun sets, often with a celebratory meal. The fast is not intended to be a burden, as the girls having the conversation perceived it, but to be an opportunity for spiritual growth, connection to God and community and a re-establishment of good practices to carry through the year.

I'm sure there are some children who do consider fasting a burden. But I found this article from the CBC a few years ago in which children reflect on their experience of fasting - or partial fasting in the case of the younger kids - as connecting to their family and to God. While puberty is considered the time when young people should begin to join their elders in fasting, smaller children are given the choice.

While fasting isn't a compulsory Christian practice, it has long been a way that Christians too connect to our creator and community. Following the example of Jesus in the wilderness we fast as solidarity with those who do not have food and to act in just ways. To use the time for eating and preparing food for prayer or spiritual disciplines. To feed the mind and heart instead of the body.

If you are interested in learning a little bit more about the Muslim experience during Ramadan, Here are some link that you could follow and learn from:
  • First, Google can be your best friend but here's a helpful Ramadan FAQ from some UK Muslims.
  • Huda Fahmi is the comic artist behind Yes I'm Hot in This, a humorous take on being a hijabi Muslim in southern Texas (thus the title of her comic - guess what she gets asked a lot). I follow several Muslim women on Instagram, teachers and illustrators and 'influencers,' but she is by far my favorite.
  • The podcasts See Something Say Something, features conversations about being Muslim in America by a whole variety of folks of different backgrounds and Good Muslim Bad Muslim is two women who are writers and comedians and feature their take on politics and culture.
If you see a Muslim neighbor it would be totally appropriate to say Ramadan Mubarak (happy/blessed Ramadan) as a greeting.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

For Mothering

In honor of Mother's Day this Sunday, I offer a song, a prayer and a reminder.

The 23rd Psalm
First, I again share with you this masterpiece by Bobby McFarrin. Maybe I'll share it every year. It's so good!

A Prayer for all Kinds of Mothering
Second, this Mothers Day blessing adapted from a prayer that was shared around social media a couple years ago and which I found posted by Sarah Bessey on facebook, based on a post by Amy Young here.

May you know the blessing of a mothering God...
if you are like Tamar, struggling with infertility, or a miscarriage.

if you are like Rachel, counting the women among your family and friends who year by year and month by month get pregnant, while you wait.

if you are like Naomi, and have known the bitter sting of a child's death.

if you are like Joseph and Benjamin, and your mother has died.

if your relationship with your mother was marked by trauma, abuse, or abandonment, or she just couldn't parent you the way you needed.

if you've been like Moses' mother and put a child up for adoption, trusting another family to love your child into adulthood.

if you've been like Pharaoh's daughter, called to love children whom you did not bear.

if you, like many, are watching (or have watched) your mother age, and disappear into the long goodbye of dementia.

if you, like Mary, are pregnant for the very first time and waiting breathlessly for the miracle of your first child.

if like Hagar, now you are mothering alone.

if motherhood is your greatest joy and toughest struggle all rolled into one.

if you are watching your child battle substance abuse, a public legal situation, mental illness, or another situation which you can merely watch unfold.

if you like so many women before you do not wish to be a mother, are not married, or in so many other ways do not fit into societal norms.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if you see yourself reflected in all, or none of these stories.

You are loved. You are seen. You are worthy.

And may you know the deep love without end of our big, wild, beautiful God who is the very best example of a parent that we know.


Mothers for Peace
And finally, if you are still reading, a reminder. The origins of Mother's Day was the intention that it be a day for peace an unity. It's creator was Ann Jarvis who wanted to continue the work of and honor her own mother, who had witnessed the devastation of the American Civil War and worked to heal bodies, spirits and communities broken by it. Ann was joined in her campaign to have Mother's Day recognized as a national holiday by suffragette Julia Ward Howe who wrote the "Mother's Day Proclamation" including this memorable quote:

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.


Happy Mothers' Day. In the name of the one God who mothers us all.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Welcoming Transgender Christians


Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ ~ Acts 10:34

In my experience as a parent and working with children and youth, young people are not as confounded as adults sometimes are at the growing understanding of gender identity as unlinked to attraction or to biological organs or chromosomes. It’s not that they don’t have a clear sense of their own gender; most children know from the time they’re about three what gender they are. But that sense doesn’t have to do with what’s in their pants, it has to do with simply knowing.

Unfortunately even very young children already also know very what’s ‘for girls’ and what’s ‘for boys’. It’s remarkable - or maybe it’s not, really - how much our social programming around gender roles, expression and identity is entrenched as truth. This was also true for the early Christians related to Christian identity. Peter, speaking in the quote above, is absolutely certain that Gentiles cannot be Christians. How could it be possible? He learns, however, that God’s spirit is continuing to work in spite of our doubt and in spite of our uncertainty. In fact God’s Spirit powers through our uncertainty.

As a congregation of radical hospitality who has embraced an open welcome of LGBTQ+ people (an acronym that means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer or Questioning Plus multiple other sexual and gender identities) we are still learning more about how to fully welcome people who are trans and queer. This Sunday in worship we will hear the full story of Peter’s vision and transformation. We’ll also be blessing the work of our Gender Hospitality Ministry Team, who are working on behalf of our congregation to be clear in our welcome and notice places where we have room to grow.

While we work at this as a congregation we all have the opportunity to grow in our understanding of our own gender identity and expression. We have an opportunity to undo some of the expectation in ourselves and in our children about what’s expected of being a male or female and that there are folks whose identity is as neither - or both. I actually think that knowing God can help us know people beyond the binary is a better way. When discussing gender with my older child, talking about people who are a-gender or non-binary, she replied, “Oh, like God.” Yes!! Like God!! We are indeed made in the image of a queer God.

As a part of my own learning I’ve embraced resources and media that help me see and hear from people who are transgender or non-binary. I compiled a few resources for adults and for kids last fall around Trans Awareness Week and I’d like to share that list (to which I’ve added a few) to help us all continue our growth in understanding trans experiences in order that we all might be more compassionate. So that we can advocate and amplify the voices of trans gender non-conforming folks. See the list below.

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A Note on the image: We’re all familiar with the rainbow flag image which is a symbol for the gay pride and is a visual cue of openness to welcome for people who are gay and lesbian. The trans flag is a similar symbol and visual cue to trans folks that those displaying it are knowledgeable about and welcome people who are transgender or gender non-conforming.

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Resources:

Reading and Resources for Adults and Older Teens

Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austin Hartke. Austin uses stories of trans folks as well as the Bible to weave a theology for affirmation and welcome, in addition to telling his own story of being trans in the church.

Trans 101: a brief guide from BMC. I found this really helpful in framing gender as beyond a binary. It also has a helpful glossary and personal stories from Mennonite and Brethren people who are transgender.

A Quick Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns I have not read it but I saw it on the yellow-sticker shelf at the Seattle Public Library. So you can have it for as long as you need it!

“Dear (Cis) People Who Put Your Pronouns on Nametags” by Sinclair Sexsmith. Help from an experiential perspective for understanding why pronouns are so important.

Jaimie Bruesehoff - A blogging parent of a transgender child who is both an outspoken advocate for trans rights and committed to raising her children to be people of faith in the Lutheran Church. Her now 11 year old daughter was just blessed in a naming ceremony honoring her 'forever name' in her congregation. I find her writing about the intersection of faith and parenting a trans kid especially meaningful.

How To Be A Girl - a podcast by a Seattle parent of a now 11-year-old (I think) trans girl that documents the whole journey and most recently the very real concern they've had about moving to a suburb where her daughter is not out and where they are concerned about how she will be received. I've also listened to this with my child and we've had some good conversations about it.

Picture Books

I am Jazz was one of the earliest picture books that approached being transgender in a normative way. Jazz Jennings is now a young adult and still an outspoken trans advocate.

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love - a gender non-conforming little boy who admires the beautifully dressed ladies in his neighborhood. So beautifully illustrated, the pictures say more than the words.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino. Morris loves his swishy, crinkly tangerine dress that reminds him of the color of tigers. But his classmates are not so sure that boys can wear dresses. Together they begin to understand that “this boy does.”

Middle Grade Books:

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart - a middle grade novel about a transgender girl who is afraid of the onset of puberty. It's also very real about the experience of bipolar disorder. It's really good and a very quick read for an adult.

A Boy Like Me by Jennie Wood - I haven't read this one yet but it's on my list. This is what I gathered from Good Reads: All the awkwardness of an eighth grade boy trying to impress a girl, take on the prejudice and small-mindedness of his small town and getting his first period.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bloody Valentine...Literally

I saw a post on Instagram made by the Canadian writer and comedian Charlie Demers, that said "Valentine’s Day is just a corporate, Hallmark holiday cooked up to celebrate an indescribably brave 3rd century priest who gave succour to a persecuted minority & was executed by the most powerful state in the world for resisting its war-making!"

Well, that got me curious! Valentine was anti-war? Sure thing. He was indeed a priest who ministered in Rome in the days when Christians were still persecuted for their faith. He was jailed several times for preaching Christ and trying to convert pagans. The first time he was jailed for this he was released after he restored sight the the daughter of the judge who has tried him, convincing the judge and his whole household to be baptized. It's totally sounds like a story out of the book of Acts.

But the real act of non-violent resistance to empire is when Claudius II was having difficulty recruiting men to the Roman army. Because their attachment to family and spouses prevented them from their duty he banned all engagements and marriage in Rome. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret for Christian couples so that the men would not have to enlist. When Claudius discovered this Valentine was arrested again, clubbed to death and beheaded. And that is why February 14 is Valentine's Day. It's the date in 270 (although the year is debated) that Valentinus of Rome was beheaded.

It's thought that the reason that it became instituted as a celebration of romantic love is that, like so many Christian celebrations, it supplanted a pagan holiday. In this case it was the holiday of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love.

You're welcome and Happy Valentine's Day.
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*Info above mainly from Wikipedia, History.com and Catholic.org