Blog: Pentecost: Using our Gifts to Renew the Face of the Earth

By Steven Kandow

By Steven Kandow

This weekend, the church celebrates the feast of Pentecost, the day in which many denominations celebrate the birth of the Christian church. It’s marked by the fulfillment of Christ’s promise of the arrival of the Holy Spirit, sent amongst the apostles to renew the face of the earth through spreading the good news.

Photo credit: Parish of Saint Monica

Photo credit: Parish of Saint Monica

Throughout most of Lent and the Easter season, I’ve been pondering these questions: What can I do to help renew the face of the earth?  How can I advance the good news of Jesus’s message of salvation for all?

One late April morning, the Holy Spirit answered my questions of how I could contribute to advancing God’s kingdom using my own gifts.  The arguments for the Obergefell v. Hodges case had just concluded earlier that week and there had been no references in the priest’s homily that morning for the need for society or the Supreme Court to embrace the “traditional definition of marriage,” so I thought I was in the clear from any political commentary for that mass.

However, when the priest began saying the general intercessions, he offered a prayer for the Supreme Court to uphold the definition of marriage as intended by God.  At first, I was taken aback as I was every time a reference to the marriage equality movement surfaced in mass.  After reflecting on the moment, though, I couldn’t help but smile, and I found myself joining in the congregational response: “Lord, hear our prayer.”

For me, marriage as intended by God references God’s solution for the problem of man being alone (Gen 2:18).  For heterosexual couples, that mirrors the first human couple Adam and Eve, but for same-sex couples, their “suitable partner” (Gen 2:19) does not fit this model.  Marriage, therefore, reflects a commitment to a lifestyle in which two suitable partners-God’s words, not mine!-come together to share their lives with one another.

As I sat down after the general intercessions, I reflected on how my personal spiritual journey had led to me viewing scripture in this way.  I had to come to appreciate the scholarly, historic, and contextual way in which God’s word revealed itself to me, allowing me to look beyond the face value interpretation of scripture to see the meaning behind God’s message on how we are to develop a relationship with Him and with others.

I thought of the many other affirming Christians that knew in their hearts of God’s love for the LGBT community, but were forced to hear messages of condemnation, intolerance, or fear from their pulpits.  At that point, the Holy Spirit revealed a way in which I could be a source of affirmation from a scriptural perspective.

Bird Book

Today’s blog post, therefore, is the first in a series of affirming reflections on scripture readings within the context of the Church liturgical year.  It is intended for anyone searching for affirming scriptural meditation.  It will always focus on the readings for a Catholic Mass on that particular day and will reflect through a Catholic lens (for the most part) on things such as Mary, the saints, and the sacraments, but my goal is to write these reflections so they can be used by any and all Christians searching for reflective meditations without fear of condemnation of the movements for full LGBT inclusion in Christian churches.

The feast of Pentecost offers several options for readings between the vigil and Sunday Masses.  One Old Testament option for the Vigil Mass tells the story of the Tower of Babel, in which God created the many languages of the earth to prevent the builders from stretching their tower all the way to the sky.  In the first reading of the Pentecost feast day, the Holy Spirit negates this barrier by allowing the Apostles to share the Gospel with people from all nations, languages, and walks of life.

Photo credit: Catholic Bible 101

Photo credit: Catholic Bible 101

Another contrast between the story of the Tower of Babel and the story of Pentecost involves perspective relative to location.  The builders of the tower sought only to reach God in the heavens.  However, the mission of the Apostles upon receiving the Holy Spirit was very clearly an earthly one.  God desires for us to seek His presence in others rather than simply looking above.

This is a trap that the Apostles fell into briefly when Jesus ascended into heaven.  They found themselves looking up until two angels reminded them of the work they had yet to do here below.  Unfortunately, it’s a trap that many today seem to also fall into.  It’s easy to spend so much time looking to heaven that we forget about God’s creation here on Earth.

The reading from 1 Corinthians for this feast reminds us that “[t]here are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12: 4-6).

Today, on this feast of Pentecost, remember that the Holy Spirit has given gifts to you to bring about the realization of God’s kingdom here on Earth.  Take some time to reflect on what gifts you have been given and how you can use those gifts to share the good news of Christ with others.

Photo credit: Pixgood

Photo credit: Pixgood

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus offers peace to his disciples after his resurrection.  It is this very peace that remains at the core of Jesus’s teaching; this is the crux of the message we are to “renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104: 30b) with.  May God’s peace and joy be with you as we celebrate the birth of the Church on this feast of Pentecost.

Special thanks to QCROSS @ MSU for posting the pilot blog for this series of reflections.  For more articles, be sure to visit Affirming Catholic Reflections at:

https://affirmingcatholicreflections.wordpress.com

Dr. Steven Kandow is an alumus of Michigan State University and is former Vice President of Q-CROSS @ MSU

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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: My Story, Mary Sinnamon

By Mary Sinnamon

By Mary Sinnamon

It wasn’t until I was about 25 and having breakfast with my sister and two friends at The Friendly Toast in Boston that a very heavy burden fell off my shoulders that I had been carrying around my whole life.  I clicked well with our waitress and was talking to her a lot when my sister’s friend said, “Why don’t you just write your number on her hand or something? Woah…are you even into women?”  I faltered over how to respond, and apparently, not saying anything at all is the same as saying yes.  On the plane ride home to MI, my thoughts were running a thousand miles an hour—perhaps faster than the plane.  What will happen when the Baptist churches I would faithfully attend with my family find out? Could I ever go back? Will the Christian fellowship group I’m a part of at MSU kick me out? Let me still be a leader? How will my parents respond? I could feel that burden crawling back onto my shoulders again. Then a funny thing happened.  I realized I had sat in the wrong seat on the plane, yet no one made me move.  I looked at the man next to me and told him my concern. He smiled and said, “I’m sure it’s ok, you can stay.” I then noticed that he was wearing a rainbow bracelet.  I tend to be curious about bracelets because it seems like people always have a story behind them.  I asked him what his bracelet was for and he told me he is gay.  All the way home, we talked about life and the journey of coming out. I even told him my concerns about being Christian & how that would work. He said, “I know it’s scary, but some people will surprise you.” And that’s exactly what happened. I feel like God set up that encounter, and since then, I began my journey of coming out little by little to more people.

Mary (2)

I got mixed responses.  I found out a few of my closest friends weren’t surprised at all, they had always wondered if I was gay, and my family ended up being loving toward me. However, I did get some harsh messages from people within the Baptist church, and wasn’t allowed to become a leader for the college Christian fellowship group which hit me hard. But like my friend on the plane said would happen, a few people from my church and old college group came to me in support which surprised me a lot. However, it wasn’t enough to make me feel welcome at the Baptist churches and that small amount of support couldn’t change the fact that I couldn’t sign the contract (which blatantly condemned homosexuality) to be a leader for the fellowship group.  I then desperately wanted to belong somewhere, so I began looking up LGBT+ groups on campus, and luckily MSU is extremely friendly in that criteria. They had a lot of groups, and I was ecstatic when I realized that a club existed for Queer Christian people—QCROSS.  They happily welcomed me into their group and introduced me to affirming churches in the area, and I never before felt more at home.

All the way from kindergarten through high school graduation, I had attended a small, private Christian school in Troy, MI.  They were against a lot of things—homosexuality was towards the top of the long list.  My first crush was on girl in my sister’s class in elementary.  As I grew older, I came to the conclusion that my attractions were abnormal, even sinful.  Shame began to build within me till I felt like I could burst. I began to pray to God to be different, I kept praying those magical salvation words and getting re-saved over and over, and on multiple occasions I even asked God to take me to heaven because nothing I tried was changing me.  I ended up dating men only to get hurt or hurt them which struck my life with a lot of strife and anxiety.  After having come-out, I realized my relationship with God has grown exponentially stronger.  I finally felt whole.  However, attacks did come my way.  The most difficult thing to hear from people in my old church is their opinion on my walk with God.  People would write to me over the social media, and because I’m lesbian, they would “assume” I no longer go to church, that I never pray, that I’m promiscuous, that I’m just “confused,” and nothing could be farther from the truth.  The best piece of advice that I have from that experience is:  Never let anybody tell you how your relationship with God is.  Your walk with God is yours and yours alone.  I feel like God is for me, and even though I may not have realized it growing up, he has always been for me and has always loved me just the way I am. God wouldn’t have made me this way and will that I be alone.  That goes against His character and His entire reason for creating more than one human in the beginning (Genesis 2: 18 “And the Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone…”).

I recently attended MBLGTACC in Normal, IL.  It was a complete culture shock for me, but I learned so much there.  I remember at the opening ceremony, Laverne Cox saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” Then at the ending ceremony, Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington said, “Self-work, healing, forgiveness, & self-love are necessary for acceptance of others.”  When you accept yourself for who you are, you are more capable of loving and accepting others, and others are more capable of loving you as well because you let them.  I think this is why my relationship with God grew so much stronger. The feeling of disappointing Him and feeling judged by Him ceased when I came to realize that I am just the way He made me to be and that I am worthy of his love.  So, it’s better.

Mary (3)

On a final note, Easter is approaching.  Remember, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. He didn’t just give His life for some people. He gave His life for you, for me, and for everyone who wants to know Him!

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: Framing the Supreme Court Gay Marriage Debate

By Jenny May

By Jenny May

Many in Michigan, and around the country, have been watching the DeBoer vs. Snyder case closely. Now that the case that might decide the debate over same-sex marriage bans once and for all is reaching the Supreme Court, the anticipation and attention are high. The specifics of the case, as well as the other three that will be considered, are complicated.

The Supreme Court could rule in multiple ways that might have the following effects:

  1. States must recognize same-sex marriages as equal to opposite-sex marriages, and guarantee all legal protections related to these unions.

The State of Michigan will be arguing that court intervention on the issue of marriage is against states’ rights, as the people of Michigan voted for the marriage ban. For the court to rule in favor of full marriage equality, the DeBoer legal team must present evidence that not issuing same-sex marriage licenses is discriminatory. In order to be considered discriminatory, those who are in same-sex relationships must meet the requirements for a suspect or quasi-suspect class. Groups that are a part of a suspect class face a level of discrimination that is labeled “strict scrutiny.” Those in a quasi-suspect class face a level labeled “intermediate scrutiny.” In past cases, the Supreme Court has come short of defining sexual orientation as a group that fits into one of these classes. However, lower federal courts have called sexual orientation a quasi-suspect class.

If the Supreme Court should rule that not allowing same-sex marriages is discriminatory, they will most likely be admitting that sexual orientation meets the qualification of a quasi-suspect group. Such a ruling could be the basis for litigation that adds extra protections based on sexual orientation.

  1. States must recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states, but not be required to issue their own same-sex marriage licenses.

It is important to note that this does not mean that a couple could go across a border and get married, as states tend to require that at least one individual must be a citizen of that state. Rules for citizenship may vary from state to state.

  1. States are not required to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

This would mean that states have the right to create bans on same-sex marriages. This could also overturn circuit court decisions in other circuits. All other circuit courts who have taken up marriage ban cases have ruled in favor of marriage equality. This could reverse those decisions. States would then have the right to create bans on same-sex marriage. Hopefully, once a state voted in favor of same-sex marriage, it would not be able to reverse such an action. The decision on Proposition 8 in California seems to rule that once states decide to have same-sex marriage, they cannot retract their decision.

  1. Send the case back to the Sixth Circuit.

The Supreme Court could decide to ask the Sixth Circuit Court to relook at the case using a different frame of reference. However, this result seems unlikely as the Supreme Court has decided to have arguments based on specific criteria.

The case is so complex, that the court has allocated two and a half hours for arguments. Usually, each case receives only one hour of attention. The time will be spent arguing two questions:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

Time allotted for Question 1: One and a half hours.

This is where Michigan’s case is key. Michigan’s case is the only one that focuses solely on this question. Kentucky’s case relates to this question and the second question. For this reason, Michigan and Kentucky will split the time.

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

Time allotted for Question 2: One hour.

Cases from Ohio and Tennessee are related to this question, and they will split the time.

If we look at the Fourteenth Amendment’s first section, we can see why the justices chose to focus on these two questions.

Amendment XIV

Section I:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The amendment could be used to argue for or against equal protections for same-sex couples. Another option is that it may be used to protect citizens from one state from the repercussions of entering a different state. The amendment was partially added to ensure that one state would not overrule another and that citizens would not get caught in the middle. The arguments will take place on either April 27th, 28th, or 29th. The decisions that both sides have been waiting for are expected sometime in late June.

For further reading:

Supreme Court Transcripts

Forbes Reporting and opinion by Ilya Shapiro 

The Wall Street Journal reporting 

Blog: It’s Christmas time!

By Jay Gummert

By Jay Gummert

The music, the lights, the hustle and bustle—I love it.

When I was a kid, Christmas was a HUGE deal. Not because of presents—yes, those were always nice and I always wanted a new bike or video game. I loved decorating. Putting up the Christmas tree and lighting it up for the first time was the most magical thing in the world. Putting fake snow on the shelves and cutting out fake snowflakes out of paper was a blast. My grandmother and I would spend hours decorating the house. It was a huge deal.

I remember every year after we put every ornament my grandmother owned on her tree, I laid down by the tree and starred at the lights. The beauty of Christmas was so clear back then. We would go caroling (just my grandmother and I) to all of her neighbors’ houses and I would be in the Christmas play at church that always ended with everyone getting a goodie bag filled with nuts, chocolate, and Christmas trinkets.

The music was a huge part. I would spend hours making songbooks for everyone so we could sing carols together. I would painstakingly write out every word. I would illustrate what was happening in the song on the opposite page. I can see now how big of an influence Christmas was on my life. Obviously, since I’ve decided to stick with music (I’m finishing two Masters Degrees in Clarinet and Music Theory). And Christmas is still a special time for me in that regard.

Worshiping through music is something that I have always participated in. I grew up in Laurel, IA—population 239. The church I grew up in was a small United Methodist Church. If you don’t know, hymns from the Methodists are huge. Charles Wesley (the brother of John) wrote over 6,000 hymns in his lifetime. Many of these you know—for example, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

I used to just close my eyes and listen to the hymns. My head was pressed against my grandmother’s chest, the Smith family would always sing Alto and Tenor, my grandmother and the other widows would sing Soprano, and the Stinemans and Sietmans would always sing Bass. It was like having the heavenly choirs actually singing to you on Christmas Eve bringing in the Christ Child’s birth.

When you sit down in church this Advent season, just close your eyes and listen to the harmony that is created. Not just in the music, but in the universe. I am so grateful for music—another holy gift that all of mankind can share. I mean, there’s a songbook IN THE BIBLE. Music glorifies God.

One last thought—I was chatting with a scientist friend of mine and we were talking about the importance of music (mainly vibration) in nature. He told me that physics shows that when you break down an atom, you get a quark. “But what happens when you break down a quark? Anything?” I asked. He smiled and replied, “When you split a quark you get sound.”

Everything in the universe vibrates.

Think about this for a second.

How did God create the universe? He SPOKE it into being. Vibration, sound, music—it’s all been here from the beginning and just like God said, “It is good.”

Be safe and warm this holiday season and remember that you are loved. Make music. Share stories. Also, enjoy the perfection that entered the world on that holy night 2000 years ago.

 

Blog: Choosing Love in the Face of Hate

By Chanel Redden

By Chanel Redden

Now days it seems as if more and more people are in support of LGBT rights including marriage equality.  To date 32 states have Freedom to Marry, and a Gallup poll conducted May 2014 showed that 55% of Americans are in favor of Marriage Equality including people in which a marriage ban is still upheld. With these statistics it may look like everything is on the up and up, however recently I have seen some disturbing things on Facebook that show that more than laws have to change, but hearts have to also change.

Over the past few weeks, I have notice that some of my friends that have made post about LGBT rights and LBGT inclusion into the church have been viciously attacked by people claiming to be doing God’s work.  The thing that deeply saddened me the most was that many of these horrible attacks were made by their family members and “friends”.   However, what truly spoke the loudest were not the hateful messages, but the beautiful responses that my friends replied with.  They replied to the very people that questioned the validity of their Christianity, with a type of love and understanding the mirrored Christ himself.  There beautiful responses prepared me to deal with a comment made by a former staff worker from a Christian fellowship that I used to attend on campus during undergraduate years.  This former staff worker was angry that a business owner was being fined for refusing to serve a gay couple. This was especially troubling since this staff worker was a person of color and not too long ago could have had the same treatment.  I wanted to chew him out on Facebook, but then I thought about how my friends were able to respond so much love, I decided to do the same.

Love and hate are two of the strongest emotions in this universe. Both of them can totally engulf a person if allowed to, but why is it that we allow hate to engulf us much more often than love even to the point where we allow the hatred inside of us to become angry at love whether it be LGBT love, or just simply feeding the homeless?

Anger in and of itself does not always lead to hate.  Even Jesus himself became angry such as when he cleared the temple of merchants (Mark 11:15 -19) However, this type of anger is the type of anger that society is lacking today. This was not a judgmental anger, but an anger that wanted social justice!  Jesus was angry because not only were the merchants cheating people out of their money, but they were also committing this act in the Holy Temple.

This should make us want  to reevaluate the world and say to ourselves, “What would this world look like if we showed the same amount of anger toward human trafficking, child, animal, and spousal abuse, poverty,  bulling, war, famine , terrorism , environmental issues and bigotry as we do toward the various forms of love?” At this point that anger would have the choice to turn into to love out of concern for all people and creatures created by our Creator instead of the hate that it was destined to become before. Instead of wondering what if, make the choice today that you will be that change and choose love even in the face of hate.

 

Organizations that guide anger to the path of Love