Blog: School Year Reflections

 

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

The final strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” are but shadows in the air now. The cap and gown are put aside. The books are shut and exams are finished. Bags are packed and the campus is quiet. It is the end of another school year and for some the end of an era and chapter in life. Did you do what you set out to do in August?

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At Q-CROSS@MSU we had an amazing year packed with rich content, heartfelt discussions, trips and conferences, panel discussions and guest presenters, and of course—fellowship. It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone.

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I get sad at the end of a school year as I miss our weekly conversations and check-ins. I’m also aware that for some it’s difficult to go “home.” For some, home is campus and friendships become family. Summer can be tricky to navigate waiting for August to come around so that one can breathe again. We don’t always hear about this stress, but I’m aware it exists. My prayers are with each person who’s come and gone through our group—life can be rough but you don’t have to do it alone.

Summer is also a time for jobs, camps, inter/externships, preparing for the next academic year, and hopefully some fun. At Q-CROSS@MSU we spend time during the summer preparing for the upcoming year and evaluating the previous one. Is there something you’d like to see, learn, or experience within our group? Email us: qcrossmsu@gmail.com and we’ll include your idea(s) in our brainstorming sessions.

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Blessings on your summer,

Rev. Jenn Tafel

Go Green!

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Blog: Gearing Up For the New Year

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

There is a buzz in the air: a mixture of excitement, anxiety, curiosity, and more. A new school year awaits and the MSU campus is beginning to come to life once again. Spartans from all corners of the world will descend on East Lansing in the next couple weeks. Studies and sporting events will begin, parties around campus will spring up (yes, they do happen!), and all kinds of extra-curricular activities will vie for students’ attention.

There are many aspects to college life including time for personal exploration. It is a time to investigate personal goals and values. It is a time for one to figure out one’s identity, passion, discipline, and life path. A question to ask may be, “What will I find at the core of my being?” People in many disciplines of study have been asking this for centuries. Included in one’s identity is gender expression and sexuality. Also included is an understanding of a force greater than ourselves—whether a person chooses to believe it exists and if so, if one will choose to engage it through religious practices.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

“The Thinker” sculpture by Auguste Rodin Photo Credit: Public Domain

This is where Q-CROSS@MSU fits into the equation. We are a student organization at MSU that celebrates the intersection of queer-identified and Christian* students. We come together for weekly events including Bible study, fellowship activities (movie and game nights), discussions on current events in the queer and trans* community, and worship that includes the Holy Supper (denied to many in the queer and trans* community). Our gatherings celebrate the wholeness and holiness of each other. It is a place for those who are questioning various aspects of their identity. It is a place to share stories and reclaim missing pieces of self-hood.

Photo Credit: U.S. Library of Congress

Gutenberg Bible Photo Credit: U.S. Library of Congress

The concepts of sin and abomination have dominated the conversation about the queer and trans* population in Christianity for decades. However, current scholarship on the intersection of queer and Christian invites one to take a different look at how these terms are used in Scripture and how we can find affirming language in the Bible. When the concepts that used to color perspective and understanding are off the table a new life emerges from ancient texts. New life also emerges within a person when they are affirmed on every level.

Photo Credit: Project Happiness (Facebook)

Photo Credit: Project Happiness (Facebook)

We are looking forward to a year of educational opportunities, fellowship, worship, and collaboration with other student organizations. This is another year where anything is possible. We look forward to meeting you. You are invited to our Open House on September 2 from 7-9 pm (location is TBD). Our regular weekly meetings begin on September 16 in the Union building. Connect with us on our Facebook page so you stay up to date on our events. Connect with Religious Life at MSU here for other opportunities on campus. Blessings on your academic life here at Michigan State. Go Green!

Blog: Narrating a New Normal

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

It was a blessing beyond measure to attend MBLGTACC2015. I was a little bummed to be leaving my partner over Valentine’s weekend, but he and I celebrated earlier in the week—so I wasn’t too bummed out. I also was a bit concerned about the weather, but it held out. Good driving weather, but -25 degrees with the wind-chill once we got there! I was able to put most of these minor worries away once we got going down the highway because this adventure held more opportunity for fun and learning than what would hold us back.

I traveled to the event with one of the members of Q-CROSS@MSU, Mary. We both were looking forward (read: ECSTATIC!) to the keynote speaker, Laverne Cox, and what the workshops had to offer. As someone who loves all things alternative (okay, most things alternative!)—I was also looking forward to being with a crowd who pushes back against the mainstream. It was also an opportunity to connect with a member of Q-CROSS@MSU by learning her life story in more detail. The journey went by quickly as we both shared pieces of our life story and how we found our way into the queer culture and what that means for both of us.

Laverne Cox Collage

I had the good fortune to hear Laverne Cox speak at an event last spring, and I was eagerly anticipating what she had to offer at this event. To hear Laverne Cox speak is to connect with her truth in a profound and meaningful way. She is eloquent and articulate with humor that runs deep. She has traveled to dark places and prevailed. She weaves education and empowerment through her life story like the great masters with grace. She is a model for us all and thank goodness the trans* community has such an advocate and activist. She has away about her that makes a person want to #fixsociety with her. She runs a powerful Q & A—and this time was no different. We are all better people for being in that crowd and bearing witness to the light that is Laverne Cox.

How do you top that? You don’t. You find a way to integrate the learning and shine your light. Off we went to the next event, Vagina Monologues play offers a different form of empowerment—just as powerful. We left the conference center on a buzz.

MBLGTACC Photo collage

The rest of the conference was no less amazing. I was lucky enough to float between student and advisor workshops. The learning and networking opportunities were fantastic. I came away inspired and ready for action. From the plenary session on identity to the workshops for advisors to the closing keynote speaker—the message range out about self-care and authenticity. I took to heart the message, “We need you for the long haul.” I’ve been reflecting on this since I returned home. This conference had something for everyone. The entertainment Saturday night was aw esome. We got a dose of slam poetry with Kit Yan and a drag show hosted by Bianca Del Rio Two completely different forms of entertainment—both were spectacular.

During the closing ceremony we watched the promo video for the next conference to be held at Purdue University. I cried happy tears while I watched it as I felt a renewed sense of call. And while sometimes one can feel a sense of separation among the community, we truly are in this together. Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington imparted the message, “Wholeness is the new normal.” Wholeness within ourselves, the LGBTQ community, and our culture. How will I narrate a new normal? With a sense of corniness (for which I am famous), “This little light of mine—I’m going to let it shine…”

Blog: Holding on to Hope

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

If you are a member of the LGBTQ community living in the state of Michigan, it can be hard to keep hope alive.  In his first year as Governor of the state, Rick Snyder signed a law banning domestic partner benefits. The message became clear that the state leader would not take the lead for becoming an inclusive Michigan. In 2014 U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ordered the state to stop enforcing the ban on same-sex marriage. The state Attorney General, Bill Schuette put a stay on this decision. Over 300 couples got married the day after marriage equality was legal (3/22/14) and as a new week began found out that they were not able to continue celebrating their joyous marriages. Governor Snyder has responded time and again that he is only trying to follow the law and let the courts make the final decision. It is not lost on many that this was an election year for him and that probably weighed heavily on whether or not he would speak in support of the LGBTQ community. However, he recently had an opportunity to speak to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and he neglected to talk about two important issues for the LGBTQ community: expanding the Elliott-Larsen Amendment to the state Constitution and marriage equality. The message is clear—he is not taking leadership on creating an inclusive state. However, his voice, while powerful, is becoming a minority.

Photo credit: Michigan for Marriage

Photo credit: Michigan for Marriage

I attended the “MI Staredown” event with members of Equality Marriage in which we made our presence known as there was a potential threat of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passing prior to the legislators’ holiday break. We gathered in a local parish before marching to the Capitol and one thing was clear: everyone was exhausted. We showed up because this is legislation that is potentially harmful to the LGBTQ community, but it was difficult to rally the troops after the long year of fighting for marriage equality and civil rights for the community.

I prayed about this during the MSU winter break. The lack of hope was palpable and that hurt my heart. How can we stand united as a community if we’re clearly worn down? Enter: Holy Spirit. I received the following poem in a Christmas card.

Hope_RuppWhile the message is layered and cryptic, as is often the case with messages from our Creator, the prayer is one of seeking clarity. It is a prayer clinging to hope in a world that continues to push against the idea that such a force exists. This is the time for us to gather together in strength and numbers. Let us pick up our family and friends that feel isolated and afraid. See, hope does not work alone—it is a force that by its very nature is magnetic and it calls us out of the darkness.

People often ask me, a religious leader, why I am so political. For me, politics and religion are an interesting mix. While I believe in religious freedom and the ability to practice our faiths freely, it is my faith that informs how I behave politically because it is typically legislation that needs to loose its fetters so that we may all be liberated. I hold on to hope because my faith and spirit dictate I do so while my humanity continues to fight against this force of good. My humanity says, “Don’t bother. It’s not worth the fight. Don’t put yourself in harms way.” My spirit says, “How can you sit still when there are people crying out for liberation.” And this is the struggle of earth citizenship.

My prayers are with this community as we march forward following the arc of justice as it bends toward liberation. There is hope on the horizon as we begin the new year. A federal judge is urging Michigan to recognize the 300+ marriages from last March and the Supreme Court will hear the marriage equality case for Michigan with a potential decision this summer.
Let us hold the light together. Amen and amen.

 

Blog: International Day of Peace

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

I was invited to speak at the International Day of Peace (September 18th) hosted by the Wesley Foundation at MSU and the Shalom Center for Justice and Peace; and specifically to speak on behalf of the LGBTQ-Christian voice as I am religious advisor for Q-CROSS at MSU. I was told me the theme was about agriculture. So, the challenge was set before me as to how to include all of this in a message.

Photo Credit: Wesley Foundation at Michigan a State University

Photo Credit: Wesley Foundation at Michigan a State University

After I was asked to be one of the speakers for this event, I was inundated by the quote from Mother Theresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I knew that I had to pay attention and it stuck with me while I prepared what to say.

While in meditation and preparation, I began to think about gardens. When I was married, my husband and I attempted to grow a vegetable garden. I say attempted, because anyone who has even the smallest experience with gardening knows how much work is involved. There are people far more skilled than me who can go into great detail as to what it takes to grow a successful garden. Great care is involved, time, energy, and an understanding of factors such as the soil, water, heat, light, insects and animals that destroy efforts, and so on. And like I said, we made an attempt and were able to yield some vegetables for our efforts.

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During this experience, I also learned about concepts like companion gardening, cultivation, and symbiosis in new and meaningful ways. We were intentional about planting the garden and even had a map in order to employ companion gardening. We had to be mindful about what plants would interact best with each other. We had to have a map because when the seeds went in the ground, it was anybody’s guess as to what would be springing from the ground. We spent time weeding, watering and trying our best to get rid of unwanted insects. We even tried creating worm bins in order to create nutrient-rich soil for cultivation purposes. We were researching the best methods in organic gardening. When I would look out the window at this garden toward the end of summer, I saw the symbiotic nature working in ways that words can’t always describe. This creation was alive and breathing.

And so it is with the body of Christ. It takes effort to live out the teachings from Scripture and to cultivate relationships based on agape love—unconditional love that seeks to feed and nurture us. Cultivating also means to break up soil in order to plant new life—which also applies to us. We need to break up old parts of ourselves in order for new experiences, relationship and life to truly take hold. We can’t be lazy about our spirituality. We can’t coast on good deeds done the year before. In order for Christ to work through us it requires intentionality in all we do. The best part is that the more that we practice our faith, the more effortless it becomes. It becomes ingrained in our thoughts, language and actions.

When I first became involved in QCROSS, I would receive emails from the founder of the group whose email signature was the quote from Dr. King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” And I had a sinking feeling—was I being too silent about being an ally? An occupational hazard for ministers is thinking that we are not doing enough, but at that moment I realized that I could honestly do more—or at least more vocal. And I have and what blessings have occurred because of the relationships that I’ve cultivated.

In gardening there are often surprises, some bad and some good. Plants endure a lot and sometimes will spring up despite the harshest conditions. This is also true with the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes and surprises us if we’re not paying attention. As an institution, the Church has fought long and hard against members of the LGBTQ community. However, those of us who have taken off the “institutional blinders” see our family and friends as part of the living body of Christ. What can we do to further cultivate relationships and break up what no longer serves so these children of God can thrive? I leave it to you to find those answers in your life and community.

Original Art by Rev. Jenn Tafel

Original Art by Rev. Jenn Tafel

Again, as Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We all belong in the body of Christ. May we continue to be inspired to do our part to bring forward the peace that Christ offers.

Amen.