Wrestling with God and Names

Sermons are deeply contextual, and they also speak throughout their time and place to people hearing regardless of time and place.

Here’s a sermon for Pridetide, delivered at University Church Chicago on 2 June 2019.

Good Morning, Church! It is a joy to be with you here, in God’s house, celebrating Pride month. Thank you for the invitation to preach here today.

As you know, my name is River. I’m named after the New River of West Virginia and the Upper Iowa River of Northeast Iowa – these rivers were my friends when I needed to tell my story and there was no one who could listen. The New River was there when I first started to understand myself as outside the cisgender heterosexual mainstream. The Upper Iowa held me up when I first publicly came out and had nowhere to go. These two rivers were places where I met God and wrestled with all the information I thought I had, and the realities that I was living.

When I was struggling to understand my faith and my queerness, when I was first coming out, I spoke to my Hebrew teacher, who pointed me to the stories of the so-called patriarchs, shared between the Jewish and Christian traditions. Jacob and his son Joseph quickly became my favorite patriarchs. Joseph, because of his extravagant and gender non-conforming clothing, and Jacob because he was just a bit different. Queer Biblical Scholar, Michael Carden explains how Jacob breaks down the athletic, hunting, provider role of men and instead fills the requirements of patriarchy through sly thinking and plotting. Often these traits are viewed as things to be avoided, yet throughout my years, I’ve learned that thinking on my feet and planning for a variety of contingencies have helped me stay alive and kept me safely housed.

The text today provides an interlude in family drama. The story begins by the Jabbok River, now called the Zarqa or Blue River. Jacob, his family, and his property are traveling from the home he made with his wives and their father Laban, and are returning to the land where Jacob was born. The land of Canaan where Jacob got both his brother’s birthright and his father, Isaac’s blessing on his firstborn. After parting ways on less than ideal terms, and being estranged for about five chapters, Jacob and Esau are about to see each other again. Jacob’s brother, Esau, is coming to meet him; this is the night before the big meeting, and Jacob has prepared for a variety of responses.

In the autobiography I Know What Heaven Looks Like, Rev. Lawrence Richardson, a black trans United Church of Christ pastor, tells a story of family discord and housing insecurity. In his story, he talks about his family kicking him out even as a teenager, before he was Lawrence, because he did not fit into their notions of religious propriety. As he worked his way through high school as a gas station attendant, he would ride city buses and walk along the Mississippi River to bide his time until he could find a friends house to crash at, or a low-traffic location to squat sleep. He sought out reconciliation with his grandmother – who had kicked him out because of his sexual orientation – through a phone call. She allowed him to come back to her home, but with strings attached. He could return only with the promise of rejecting queer identity.

Like Lawrence, Jacob is faced with potential familial rejection and faces the next part of his journey alone. We find Jacob sending his family across the River Jabbok. Jacob’s wives, children, servants, and possessions cross the river and Jacob stays on the other side. For what is perhaps the first time in many years, Jacob is all alone. And he doesn’t even get to go to bed or eat food; there is no mention of anything happening until “a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”

How exhausting! You’re about to meet your brother you haven’t seen in many years, who may hate you, and you can’t even sleep the night before. Not only can you not sleep, but you spend the night wrestling, with someone or something, perhaps even with God.

We don’t know who Jacob wrestled with by the Jabbok, there are many interpretations offered. In the Jewish tradition, Jacob wrestles with an Angel. In some Christian Traditions, Jacob wrestles with a pre-incarnate Christ. When the encounter finally ends, with the being asking for release, Jacob is blessed with a new name – Israel. Jacob offers his own interpretation of the text – that God, through an angel, has given him a new name; Hosea affirms this interpretation later in the Biblical text.

Many of the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are filled with wrestling with God and with churches and families. There is so often a deep desire to remain connected with the traditions that have provided grounding and framework for life, along with deep fear of rejection from these same traditions. Jacob must have felt some of these hopes and fears of reconnection and rejection, as he anticipated meeting his long-estranged brother, Esau. Would it be a moment of reconciliation between the two of them, would Esau harm him and the family and possessions he accumulated? Would Esau ignore the entire announcement and overture from Jacob?

Often, seven or so passages of scripture, the so-called clobber passages, are used to silence and reject lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people. Much of LGBTQ theology and biblical interpretation centers around how to neutralize or reimagine these specific aspects of our faith tradition. When I was coming out, this is where I spent most of my time wrestling. During that time I participated in a directed reading class, where I was first introduced to the idea that there was more to life than trying to prove I was worthy of love, dignity, and respect. There were serious scholars of Christianity who believed that LGBTQ people had specific gifts and perspectives that enriched Christianity and the Church.

There are many names that we place on ourselves or society places on us, such as our sexual orientation, gender identity, racial identity, economic class, education level, job title, religious affiliation, social cliques and national identities. Some of these, like our sexual orientation and gender identities are names we give ourselves; Others, are placed on us by those around us such as graduate, being named as a foreigner because someone speaks with an accent. Each of these names gives us different perspectives on the ways we look at the world, and each of these names are gifts that enrich us as a community and as individuals.
Throughout the Bible, the names or identities which people brought into the community enriched our story of faith and our experience of the Divine, from Ruth, the Moabite, who became an Ancestor of Jesus, to Lydia who hosted an early Christian community in her home.

This week, in Chicago, two mainstays in gay community life have made horribly racist decisions. They’ve chosen to mark their places as unsafe for some, and they’ve attempted to rewrite history, forcibly removing the cultural contributions of certain parts of the queer community. Their actions said that certain parts of the LGBTQIA+ community are more welcome than others. They’ve said that some of the names and identities which we use are more acceptable than others. The act of erasing people and saying some people are less welcome or less acceptable is contrary to the message of God who liberates. Society has rules for who can and cannot be included. Throughout the Bible, the people who society says should be left out are often the people through whom God works.

One of the things I love most about names is they can change. When I first acknowledged my queerness, I used words like gay and man to describe myself. As my experiences in the world and of others changed, I’ve shifted the language I’ve used.

Throughout the Bible, names can shift and change and become something new and reimagined. One of the first stories of naming happens when Hagar, running from Abram and Sarai, received the promise of Ishmael from an Angel of God, who she gave the name “You are the God who sees me.” Just a chapter later, God comes to an older Abram and Sarai, promises them a son named Isaac, and changes their names to Abraham and Sarah.

In the Christian Testament, Jesus asks the simple yet loaded question “Who do YOU say that I am?” Simon responds with the words of faith we still declare today: Jesus, You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and at this declaration, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter.

These stories all point to the ways in which God is present with humans during times of change and uncertaintly. Even when God doesn’t change your name, God is present in the tumult.

A couple years after the attempt at reconciliation between Lawrence and his grandmother, he experienced a period of disruption in his life, and attempted suicide. During his recovery in the psychiatric ward, his grandmother came to visit him. She told him the story of how she visited him every night while he was recovering in the Intensive Care Unit, how she found his apartment, which he had prepared for whoever was contacted if he had died. She read his journal, and saw his prayers begging for God to make him cis and straight. She told her story of recognizing that God did not tell her to push Lawrence away, but rather her congregation did, and she welcomed Lawrence back into her home after he was discharged, both to continue to heal and as part of the reconciliation of their family.

Shortly after I moved to Chicago for seminary, I tried on new names and identities to see what might fit better. As I tried on new names and identities, I realized that I wanted to change my given name. The identity that my old name conjured up in my mind and the minds of others no longer matched the reality I was living. I decided to become River. So I gathered some friends of mine, and on a cool early fall evening, we walked out to the lake, with our memories, our hopes, and our fears. We commended them all to the care of God who sees, knows and guides. During the short ritual, each of my friends said that my name would be River. And so it was.

God welcomes you into the beloved community with the names and identities you call yourself. God calls us to welcome others as we have been welcomed. During this Month of Pride, we turn our eyes to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer members of God’s family who rioted and organized so they could be themselves in peace. In many Christian theological circles they fought too, for churches to recognize their position as part of God’s family. To recognize that when we are welcomed into God’s family, we are given an additional name Beloved of God.

Thanks Be To God

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A Thanksgiving for Names

This pride month, I’ll be offering a few liturgical and worship resources for celebrating pride in a faith context. The first is A Thanksgiving for Names. You are welcome to use and reproduce as needed. Please credit me as the author, and I’d be delighted if you sent me an order of service of bulletin from the service where it was used. (Message me for an e-mail or physical address.)

A Thanksgiving for Names

Many: God, we give you thanks for names
One: For Saul, who you called as an apostle, and whose name you changed to Paul.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.
One: For Sarai, who had children long after her childbearing years were over, and whose name you changed to Sarah.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.
One: For Abram, who you promised children as numerous as the sand on the shore or the stars in the sky, and whose name you changed to Abraham.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.
One: For Simon, who called your Beloved One Messiah, and whose name you changed to Peter.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names
One: For Hagar, who saw you through the bushes, and became the only human to name you, the God who Sees.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.
One: For Jacob, who you wrestled with near the banks of the river, and whose name you changed to Israel.
Many: God, we give you thanks for names.

Challenging Visiblity: Transgender Day of Visibility 2019

There’s been a meme going around – particularly earlier this year saying “it’s 2k19, what should we give up?” Today is Transgender day of Visibility. Resisting the dominant narratives in transgender discourse, I’ve reached the conclusion that visibility plays into the hands of cis-normative white-supremacy, and perhaps this is the year to let it go.

Visibility is the gift of whiteness, of passing, and of wealth. When those who are not white, do not pass and do not have money attempt to pay for visibility, the cost is an ever-rising death count across the USA and in the global south.  White supremacy, and it’s close relatives colonialism and the gender binary are deeply intertwined in the lived realities of gender in the United States – and any attempt to confront gender-based oppression must acknowledge the settler-colonial state in which we live, and the ways in which settler-colonialism has and continues to shape and influence the lived realities of people of color in this country.

It’s 2k19. It’s time to give up the unawareness of the ways in which racism, white supremacy, transphobia and cisnormativity are intertwined and interdependent.

Recognizing that visibility is a gift of whiteness, it is important that visibility becomes one of the gifts I am most aware of possessing, so I can interrogate how I use it and how it impacts and influences me. I recognize that often, visibility looks like people stopping me on the street or in the hallways and introduce themselves to me, expecting that I know them.

When I walk down the street I often get catcalled, not just with misogyny but with transphobia too. That is, with transmisogyny.
Visibility means I take extra care to protect my privacy online and in public – often my social media presence and my physical space presentation are offset by a few weeks or months – just to give myself a bit of time to hold off recognition made by significant changes to my appearance.

Visibility also means that when someone wants to transition or explore their gender, I’m frequently one of the stops they make along their way. When someone has questions or wants a workshop on gender, they ask me.

Visibility is a gift, because I’ve learned to make it one. When I first began exploring my gender, I did so in the quiet corners of my bedroom, hidden for away from anything that could be tied to me in public.

These are gifts, because we learn in community with the person catcalling on the street, the person who expects that I know them – the me I hide from public exposure and the social media presence I carefully curate.

Visibility as a transgender person means I am subject to public scrutiny and that means I must use my visibilty to open up spaces for those more marginalized than I am. The sex-working trans people, the trans people of color, the disabled and the incarcerated trans people.

Using gifts to transform the conversation from one about visibility to who is systematically excluded from participation in society provides a means of using visibility for positive outcomes. Inviting the systematically removed to the conversation, even if it means giving up your seat has the possibility to change the world and to leave the community transformed. That’s what I want for visibility, every day.

Toward an ace/aro-inclusive Valentine’s Day

February as a month is all about Black History, Valentine’s Day the Beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  Not all of these things are my lane, so while I support and educate myself on Black History, while I’ll probably go to church on Ash Wednesday, I want to focus on my lane – LGBTQIA+ people and the ways in which we exist and are celebrated or harmed in the world.

Valentine’s Day is a significant day for many people. It’s a time when commitments are made and anniversaries are celebrated. Eight years ago, it was Valentine’s Day when I took the jump and said that God made me gay and God made me good. It was a stressor that upset my family system, and it was a decision I would make again and again. 

As I’ve continued coming out and coming out, gay isn’t a word that I use to describe myself anymore. Instead, I use ace-spec, bi+, trans or non-binary, and queer. Within this collection of identities we have a-spec, or asexuality/aromantic spectrum. Specifically, I’m concerned with making Valentines Day accessible to asexual, aromantic and ace/aro-spectrum friends.

The reality is, friendship and companionship are just as important to us as they are to our romantic and sexual friends. Can we expand Valentines Day to be something which celebrates all of the ways in which humans do life together and celebrate the variety of ways our relationships organize themselves.

When I opened the conversation to my friends on the ace/aro-spectrum, we all acknowledged that while we universally were not fans of the current accents and emphasis of the day, there were ways in which the day could be redeemed. Focusing on the ways we form partnerships and communities – business, companionship as well as the constellations of care which we all participate.

One friend, talking about an idealized celebration of Valentine’s day said it looked like board games and a cuddle pile. Another said it looked like a feast of food from different social locations, cultures and influences.

Filled with social meaning, Valentine’s day is a way in which our cultural norms are passed from generation to generation. Wouldn’t it be lovely to take the time to shift to a more inclusive Valentine’s day? I believe it would be powerful to step away from the alloromantic/allosexual connotations of this day and celebrate the diversity with which humans interact with each other.

Special thanks to my patrons on Patreon for helping make this piece possible.

On Being Bisexual+

This year for Bisexual+ Visibility Week, I came out, again. I’ve become much more intentional about claiming space within the bisexual umbrella. You see, for a long time I understood bisexuality to denote attraction to cisgender and transgender binary men and women.  As I have made clear, I don’t understand myself as functioning within the binary. I have facial hair, lipstick, a large chest, body hair, dresses, and pants. I blend and break down all of the aspects of gender which function to make me easily categorical, even as I claim the label trans-femme for myself.

Thin waning and waxing moons in the bisexual pride colors.
Thin waning and waxing moons in the bisexual pride colors.

Femme is a complicated term and one that I’ll probably use a few times. It originated in women who love women spaces, for people who engaged in and celebrated sapphic love. I use it both as a person who loves women, sexually and non-sexually, and as a person whose gender expression lives firmly on the feminine of center side of things.

For so long, my queerness was tied up in my transness. In many ways, it still is. No matter who I have a relationship with, it’ll be a queer relationship. My bi+sexuality adds another layer to that; my relationships will be queer, no matter what, because I am bisexual+.

Bisexual is another complicated term, with different definitions spread every which way depending on who you ask, or the mood of the answerer. Robyn Ochs put forth a definition of bisexuality that encompasses most of what I understand bisexuality for me to mean. She says “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

My name is River. I’m a consultant and educator. A graduate student and a student of religion, especially Christianity. I am bisexual+, and transgender. I am fat. I am me.

Coming out, no matter how many times you have done it, no matter how many ways you have done it, no matter what is a terrifying experience. Often, because transgender people are desexualized, the thought of having any romantic or sexual entanglement is beyond comprehension.  The thought of being open to more than one specific kind of sexual/romantic shocks many people. 

Screaming with Jesus: Transgender Day of Remembrance 2018

Special thanks for editorial assistance to Rev. Emily E. Ewing.

The time of changing seasons often sits with me and grows me. I write anticipating the onset of Advent and the commemoration of the Reign of Christ. During these days, we commemorate transgender awareness month and transgender day of remembrance. These are my favorite days of the year – the days when we acknowledge the world as it is and anticipate the world as it could or should be. This is my favorite time of year for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the thin days of the beginning of the month have started giving way to the rich depths of early winter. The gifts of this time of shifting seasons provide an opportunity to know and name the points of tension within ourselves, and to process emotions and events which sit within us.

Image Reads: Pro Tip - Trans and nonbinary people often HAVE to share their pronouns to be identified correctly. As a cisgender person, sharing pronouns costs nothing and naturalizes this process.

About two years ago I wrote a piece, Jesus Sits with Us in Our Grief.  It was a powerful piece to write; it took much of my deep sadness and grief and transformed them into something consumable for others. It took my anger and grief and made them palatable. Today, I write with much the same purpose. I have deep sadness and grief and I need to metabolize them into something consumable for my cisgender friends and colleagues. This time though, I need you to hear and see my anger and rage. Over the time that I’ve composed this reflection, International Pronouns Day came and went, as did the news of the government’s proposed redefinition of gender, and the release of 369 of God’s beloveds who died this year because of their transgender status. International Pronouns Day Is the first ever day of its kind, celebrating the importance of pronouns in a transgender person’s transition. Pronouns are important, as they are the baseline of acknowledging the humanness of a trans person. Legal recognition of a transgender person’s gender is also important. Pronouns and legal recognition do not mitigate my anger.

Pronouns are not enough to liberate transgender people.

Legal protections are not the fullness of what we hope for in the reign of God.  

Correct names do not set us free.

They’re the first week of class; they’re the information that the professor assumes you have when you walk into class. Legal recognition is the basic level of dignity which I am entitled to because I am a human being.

Now, let me be clear – I am happy to explain the difference between gender and sexuality, the different ways in which gender and sexuality intertwine, and the ways in which we tease them apart.  and. And. And. I’m tired.  I’m tired of putting my liberation on hold because people need me to teach them transgender 101 and rudimentary respect. I’m happy to do these things, and I need my cisgender colleagues to do these things for each other; it’s exhausting to continually defend my humanity and dignity at the most basic of levels and to do so while the government continues its assault on the rights and dignity of transgender people.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, two transgender women of color have died in my city; including one just a few miles from where I live.  It is incredibly difficult to live with this reality, where I must continually defend my personhood and know there are people near me who want people who look like me dead.  

Image shows a night sky with an aqua green black light. Text reads "Transgender people deserve to live their best life." Image includes branding information for River Needham.

Dejanay Stanton deserved to live a full and fulfilling life. Instead, she was found shot in an alley a few miles from the school I attend. Similarly, Ciara  Minaj Carter Frazier deserved to live in dignity and to live even in the midst of a domestic disagreement. Even more so, the three-hundred-sixty-nine of God’s beloved’s who had their lives ended because of their transgender status between October 2017 and September of 2018. Name, Pronouns and legal protections do not bring back the unjustly killed. Names and pronouns do not remove the barriers faced in attempting to survive in a capitalistic society – nearly two-thirds of those killed this year worked in underground economies.  I see all of this and I need to scream. I need to rage. I need to see the world as it could be and soon.

Let me be clear; I fully believe that Jesus sits with me in my grief, and right now I need something different.  I need Jesus to join me in my living room, on the street, in boardrooms and circles of influence… I need Jesus to demand change in the world. I need Jesus to scream with me. I need to see Jesus raging with me.

When the memo leaked stating that the goal of the change in how the federal government defines gender was “to remove civil rights protections from those who should not have them,” my body responded viscerally. The essence of the message is that our understanding of who people are and how they interact with the world cannot progress through time. That once a society reaches an understanding it cannot change or alter that understanding – that new information cannot change the way we interact with each other.

Two years ago, another trans woman of color was killed in Chicago. Her name was Keke Collier, and she died just a few miles from my school. There was a march in downtown Chicago, as a collective community, transgender Chicagoans came out to proclaim that Black Trans Lives Matter.

The core of the conflict between these ways of looking at the world is eschatological. There is no hope for God to breakthrough into the world as it is to bring about the world as it could be without changing us in the process. God screams with us and for us, because They see the ways in which we harm our kindred and do not live into our calling as our kindred’s keeper.  They see the way in which we live into the world as it is instead of the world as it could be. God screams with us and for us, for a world as it could be.

Transgender Lifecycle Rituals: Christian and Christopagan Resources for the Journey.

River recently completed their most recent paper, Transgender Lifecycle Rituals: Christian and Christopagan Resources for the Journey and offers it here for your consideration and feedback. If you wish to use the rites offered in the paper, please contact River for permission details.

Queerying the Text

I have had the privilege to collaborate with Rev. Ewing on an RCL-based resource engaging queer theory and the text.  I’ve got a master post of every week I’ve collaborated, from the most recent to the oldest.

7th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

6th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

4th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

3rd Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

2nd Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

Maundy Thursday – Year C

3rd Sunday of Lent – Year C

2nd Sunday of Lent – Year C

1st Sunday of Lent – Year C

Transfiguration – Year C

7th Sunday after Epiphany – Year C

6th Sunday after Epiphany – Year C

5th Sunday after Epiphany – Year C

4th Sunday after Epiphany – Year C

3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Year C

2nd Sunday after Epiphany – Year C

Baptism of Jesus – Year C

Epiphany – Year C

1st Sunday of Christmas – Year C

Holy Innocents – Year C

Christmas Eve – Year C

4th Sunday of Advent – Year C

3rd Sunday of Advent – Year C

2nd Sunday of Advent – Year C

1st Sunday of Advent – Year C

Christ the Queen/Reign of Christ – Year B

We Are Church Confessing.

21st Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

20th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

19th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

17th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

16th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

15th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

13th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

11th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

8th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B.

Our Shepherd is Leaving Us. Easter 5A- A Sermon for a time of Crisis. (John 14:1-14)

When I sat down to begin writing this sermon, I imagined what I might write about – what crisis is going on that I could speak to. It seems most realistic that I would imagine something to use as a crisis; the night after nuclear warfare broke out, or the day after a shooting in the neighborhood around a congregation. Each imagined scenario brought my senses to the edge of terror until the words of several colleagues rung in my ear. We are living in a time of crisis and the challenges just keep on coming.

It’s true.  As soon as the news about possible Russian interference in our most recent election calmed down, there was a threat to health insurance, followed by a ban on people entering this country based on their religious belief and raids on people targeted for little more than the color of their skin. Lather, Rinse, repeat – last week legislators voted to make many of the effects of sexual assault a reason to restrict access to healthcare, and being transgender, became a reason to deny people health insurance. Just yesterday, the director of the FBI was terminated without a satisfying reason given. We are living in a time of great difficulty, a time filled with unknowns. We are living in and through a crisis. We’re terrified, but not of what we see but of what is unseen. As a society, many of us are experiencing the continued and ongoing traumatic erasures of our existence. That is terrifying.

So far this week, we found out about the murder of Brenda Bostick – the tenth of a trans woman since the first of January. We heard of the death by hazing of Timothy Piazza at a fraternity house at Penn State. Jordan Edwards is STILL DEAD, and the number of people killed by police extrajudicially this year is over 400, and still rising.

This week, we hear that Jesus is leaving us for a while.  I certainly don’t like it when I’m doing my best sheep impression and my shepherd leaves. I don’t care why my shepherd leaves.  When our shepherd leaves during the news I just briefly listed off – well – it’s terrifying.

Today in our gospel, we hear the most disturbing trouble since Good Friday. Jesus Died. Jesus is Risen, and Jesus is going away? Jesus is creating a new dwelling for people who believe? WHAT?!
It’s only been 5 weeks since the Good News of Easter, and now we see that Jesus wants to preparing the disciples for his departure. He wanted the people who were closest to him to know what was going to be happening. That the realm he came to bring would not // could not exist on this earth.

In my reading of this text, far more interesting than the declaration that Jesus is preparing a place for us to be together is the hope that in this place there are many dwelling places where we might dwell together, as G-d’s family.  In this text, there’s something hidden in the shadows to hold us together.  Jesus is busy going and preparing and gathering and taking, being active and doing things.  Jesus’ busy-ness leaves open the possibility for something different among the family Jesus creates.

Last year, I briefly visited a church outside of my own tradition – not because I wanted to jump ship, but because I noticed that it was where people who looked like me went in Chicago. When I had coffee with the pastor, she asked me a pointed question:  Where do you go to find home/safety/community?  It’s a question that Jesus talks around and above in this text.  Jesus leaves open our imaginations to a cosmic, spiritual version of home/safety/community, but in the meantime, what do we have?  What is happening when our Shepherd isn’t present?

Like the disciples, we want Jesus to show us – to give us assurances. To introduce us this new communal dwelling is something our eyes can perceive and our hands can touch, and tongue can taste.  But, Jesus has a different idea – Jesus continues to imply that God’s household of many dwelling places will become present in and among each of us. In many of our baptismal promises, we promised to serve all people. We chose to belong to each other, and to share our lives with each other. As a human family, we are called to not get distracted by our curiosities, and instead, Join in the work of creating many dwelling places.

As leaders in the church, from people who cook, to people who preach and preside, we each get to imagine what it looks like to do greater things than what Jesus promised us.  Recently, prompted by a homework assignment, my flatmate and I sat down and talked about what we wanted to do with our life. Not what our parents or family systems wanted from us, not what our denominations wanted from us, but what we wanted to do for our own fulfillment. We imagined a new ministry complex, an ambitious ministry that’s somewhere between what God calls us to do and what this world needs. Where we can use our experiences to support trans youth and young adults with stable housing and navigating trans related complications to life, while also providing resources to ensure the set up was sustainable, and that they had valuable job experience to begin the process of shifting the statistics around trans unemployment.

Another project other friends envisioned with e was a simple video series where I could walk people through the hoops I needed to jump through to have identity documents that reflect as much as possible my lived realities, and that could be paired with instructions for providers who need to write letters to change gender markers, and update passports.

Jesus leaves us with the promise of a dwelling place – where we are all living in community – and gives us the charge to make it so, in this passage. Today, we are reminded that Jesus sits with us in our grief, and when it looks like our shepherd is leaving we have each other.

We’re living in a time of crisis:

trouble and danger surround us.

Now, Jesus has called us to be our kindred’s keeper,

May it be so.